Fish Suppers? In a Library? Well yes. That was the invitation from dynamic Diane Yule of Ratho library near Edinburgh Scotland. I was asked to join the ladies (and gentleman) of the ‘Book and a Blether’ group who regularly meet for a fish supper followed by a talk or a discussion about a book. This week the ‘event’ was me coming to talk about my bestselling novel, ‘Our Best Attention’. After the consumption of the fishy feast, some others joined us and I did my usual thing. This time it was enlivened by the contributions of a local lady who had brought along some memorabilia of a certain posh Edinburgh department store.
The evening went with a swing and I left feeling very optimistic about the future of libraries. If they are all such cheerful and busy parts of the community their days are not over. Phew!
Over the past few weeks since the launch of “Our Best Attention” a number of things have happened. A guest blog on Gransnet (www.gransnet.com) led to a huge response and lots of, presumably, grans wrote in with reminiscences of department stores all over the UK. In addition, I’ve been talking at a number of author events and have met lots of really interesting people who also had tales to tell.
Among the stories, I heard of an elderly lady observed in a large, posh store in London (Harrods? Maybe) ordering a single kipper -and having it delivered! Another lady told of her aunt who used to live in the ladies dormitory in the attics of their local department store. One can only imagine the sort of life she must have led there. So many untold stories.
One person’s mother worker pre WW1 in the ribbon department of a large Edinburgh emporium. Its hard to imagine a whole department devoted to the sale of ribbons but hats and costumes needed trimming in those days and matching ribbons were a matter of tremendous importance.
World War 2 was another theme that arose in our discussions. A Gransnet member had memories of their large department store being bombed out and all the departments being dispersed among local big houses and nissen huts. How must that all have been organised? Moving the stock, informing staff where to report, keeping a grip on the financial side as well as the sheer admin around paying the staff not to mention the problem of coupons. In a time before the internet and with telephones relatively few and far between its so hard to see how it was all managed- yet it was. Full marks to British bulldog spirit. Ladies shall shop!
General sadness was remarked by many at the marked reduction in variety of china and glass. People remembered going to their local department store to choose their ‘wedding china’ and how they built it up over their married lives. No more it would seem. We buy our china now in chain stores and plain white reigns supreme. Ah well. You don’t know what you’ve got till its gone!
I have a feeling that as I go along to the various events I will hear more stories of departed department stores and their staff and customers. Can hardly wait!