One of the many things I had to learn when I arrived here in Glossop was how to shop. There is no Target, no Walmart. There is no Tesco Extra1 in my town. When I want something, I must go hunt it down, like game in the jungle, elusively mocking my inability to find it.
At least, that’s how it felt at first. Coming from the land of find-everything-under-one-roof, where I see more and more small shops have gone the way of the dodo on each visit, to this land populated entirely by small and medium shops, I was very frustrated at first. It didn’t help that I wasn’t even familiar with what I was looking at: where’s the 409?2 the Bounty?3 the Downy? What’s “washing up liquid” and why’s that on the aisle sign in the supermarket?4 Why does searching for “sponges” on the supermarket website bring up cake?5 Where can I buy a hand dishwashing rack and bowl?6 Where do they sell unscented candles?7 WHERE is the baking soda!?!
Okay, a few of those are (slight) exaggerations, but I still really miss the ability to just look for the really big numbers 409 and quickly leave the chemicals aisle (the fumes always bother me), not to mention having just one bottle of cleaner I’m sure will pretty much work on anything.
However, I wouldn’t trade my shopping experience here with my all-under-one-roof shopping experience in the US (most days). What I have here is just too enjoyable to do that. Friday, I was out for 4.5 hours to do the shopping, and it was really lovely. Doing the shopping here is so much more a social event for me than it’s ever been before in my life; I reckon it’s outside the experience of most of my friends and family, and far too many Britons, so it’s about time I write about it.
On this day, I started by seeing my beautician, Suzanne at The Beauty Room, who has the unfortunate responsibility of taming my wild eyebrows. Usually you think of waxing as rather unpleasant, but I don’t mind going to see Suzanne – the pain itself is far less from her than from other waxers I’ve had, but moreover the natter is always enjoyable and usually interesting.
I emerged from there and saw that the newly-opened bakery in town, One17, was actually open, and I was there, so I popped over to check it out. I met the proprietress, Jane, and we had a lovely chat about all sorts of things. I bought a couple of things to try, and went on my way.
I headed up to the market, to work my way back down again (I don’t usually double back, but Suzanne’s is in the middle of my path down the high street). On the way, I saw Nigel, the proprietor of Sowerbutts, taking stock as I passed by. He was sure to point out to me that they’d gotten in some smoked garlic; I thanked him and told him I’d get some on my way back down the street. Shortly after that, I ran across someone I know but haven’t seen for ages; we stopped and chatted a bit about how life’s going. I told him about Bankswoodberry this weekend, since the rock music playing there struck me as his cup of tea (I was right).
Then I picked up my local(ish) paper, the Glossop Chronicle, from the newsagent. I finally remembered to look for the Buxton Advertiser‘s new Glossop edition, only to find out that this week is the first week they haven’t published it. Apparently it didn’t sell very well, so they’ve stopped. The newsagent and I had a good laugh at the supreme localism – how some people look askance at people from o’er the hill – and how the Buxtonites, especially, can’t be trusted, after having stolen Glossop’s Howard Park gates all those years ago!
I poked around Niche Markit, after being lulled over by half-price sizable water guns. The clerk put her mind to helping me find a gift – no luck, in the end, but I definitely had to relieve them of a couple of water guns. 😉
I waved at Maggie, who waved back while talking with someone at her card stall as I went past, and I headed into the market. The lady who runs the Market Deli was leaving to get some customers something out of the freezer as I was passing by; trust runs high in these parts – I hope rightfully so. The market bakery (The Muffin Stall) still had some oven bottom muffins (also here), so I snapped up a couple for Chris. Then I stopped at the cheesemonger’s, Parker’s, and had a lovely chat with Jean.
Too many times I’m in a rush when I do the shopping, but today I wasn’t, so I strolled through the market and ogled the rug stall (we need a new living room rug, but I keep forgetting to measure our floor). The stallholder came over and chatted to me again – the first time I was drawn to his stall, he told me all about his trip to New York some years ago, and we’d had a lovely chat. I wandered down to Glossop Screenprint, who’s recently set up a stall in the market. He has some very amusing shirts, but I hadn’t realized he was a screenprinter, too, until I saw something from the market’s twitter mentioning it. I have an idea for some t-shirts to make, so I got some prices and information from him. Then some socks caught my eye at Mini Muggles (a children’s clothing stall), but sadly they didn’t have the size I needed. The gal helped me work out size probabilities for a child of unknown size, and efficiently helped me find something to suit. Hooray!
Wandering around, my ear was caught by an acquaintance of mine hollering at me; I turned to find her sitting in the market café with a cup of tea. I was quite hungry by now, so I joined her for a sandwich and a chat. That was really lovely: we swapped stories of our trips around America. Mine was my recent road trip this past spring, and hers was some unspecified number of years ago. She went coast to coast, from Maine to San Francisco – all on a coach! I really don’t envy her that. But it was lovely to reminisce, and to visit with her.
We parted ways, and I finally made my way back down to Sowerbutts to get that smoked garlic, plus the rest of my greengrocer list. Three of the regular workers were there, and two different of them quickly told me about the new loyalty card program (well, the second one started to, but the first one jumped in and said, “I already told her – beat you to it!”). We pulled each others’ legs about our food preferences and dislikes, and after a bit I was the only customer in the shop, so I told them about my accent experience (from my last post), and we talked about accents a bit. I was able to ask them about the offense that might be construed by mixing up two certain accents (quite a lot, as it turns out) – which helps me understand why it is that people always phrase the question as, “Where is your accent from?” instead of “Are you from ____?” Once we’d solved all the mysteries of the universe ;-), I headed on.
I also dropped by the butcher we use, Mettrick’s. I still feel so blessed that we can get meat from a butcher who is patient and knowledgeable enough to answer all my questions (born of continuing to cook American recipes while living in England, where all the cuts of meat are called differently), and has such a short supply chain that should any problem ever occur, it will be quickly dealt with, because all the links are known – personally.
Then I found that the newest shop on High Street (it just opened on Monday) was still open, so I dropped in to have a look around. It’s lovely, and full of nice things. I chatted a bit with the proprietor Darren, and he told me that the nail salon they plan to open is planned for the upstairs – so this gives me hope that the fumes won’t keep me away after all! Happily, he reported that they’ve had a lot of lovely feedback in this first week – fingers crossed that translates into enough sales to keep them around.
Then I needed to pick up the last few things on my list from the supermarket, so I headed there. Ran across two different friends I haven’t seen in awhile, chatted a bit with each. My teacher friend thinks summer’s gone far too quickly, unsurprisingly; my other friend had just returned from ten days in France, and had to restock – especially on bacon, which she couldn’t find there — what scandal!
So that’s how I spent four and a half hours doing the weekly shopping. That’s also (part of) how to be part of a community, which is what’s being threatened by the demise of British High Streets. The connections, the humanity, the non-sterile experience: these and far more are at stake.
Connecting with people was a huge part of what I missed while I was in America this past spring. The cashiers at various supermarkets were friendly enough, but I guess the difference is it’s just one transaction at the end instead of the many different people I interact with each week here at home. The posher supermarkets now have manned cheese counters, bakeries, deli counters, fish counters, etc; I understand some here do, as well. I don’t know about the ones here, but the ones we were in, all across the breadth of the US, were very rarely staffed with workers anywhere nearly as knowledgable as the traders on my high street. They were still supermarket employees who’d never received any training specific to the counter they were manning, mostly. So no, I doubt I’d ever bond with them as I’ve bonded with the people here, simply because how I broke the ice in the beginning was by having to ask about nearly everything.
Glossop is incredibly blessed in its richness of traders, particularly independent ones – I’ve only mentioned the tip of the iceberg here, and not even all the ones I visit. There’s the cobbler, whom I only see sometimes, and the other cobbler whom I don’t use; there are at least two other butchers; there are two pound shops; there are a dazzling array of charity shops (thrift stores); there’s a sweet shop; there’s a craft shop I use quite often; the list just keeps going on and on. Unfortunately, too many towns in England are suffering from closures of high street shops.
Even where national chain shops are the only choice, that’s still far better than shuttered high streets. The whole social thing that is the human experience still happens as long as the shops are staffed by people. The WI resolved this summer to work to save the high streets. Hopefully our work towards that goal will accomplish good things for all.
- Britain’s answer to Super Walmart [↩]
- 409 is an all-purpose spray cleaner; yes, I know there are plenty of them to choose from here, but that still requires reading the “how to use” stuff on the back to figure out which ones they are, instead of just knowing which cleaner does what. [↩]
- Bounty paper towels, not Bounty candy bars. I’ve realized now that Bounty paper towels are re-branded Plenty now. [↩]
- Turns out washing up liquid is dish soap; they say: “I have to do the washing up” instead of: “I have to wash the dishes.” [↩]
- They call ordinary cake sponge cake here, to differentiate from fruit cake (which, strangely, they call a celebration cake, instead of a door stop). [↩]
- From the supermarket, the market, or the pound store, but you’ll pay the most at the supermarket. [↩]
- Not many places, it turns out, and again, the supermarket’s the worst on price. [↩]