As the sun starts to set on Saturday afternoons, it is time for Happy Hour, a tradition my husband and I try to uphold. We stop, sit quietly and savor a beer and a glass of wine while we reflect on the past week. Sometimes we chat incessantly, sometimes we just breath in the moment and our surroundings and sometimes we tune into Radio “Smooth FM” from Sydney. We have similar interests and concerns, though often have opposing points of view. When my husband recently commented that he thought one of the saddest thing he has witnessed during his lifetime has been the effect that supermarkets and shopping centres have had on our society, I was not surprised. For many years, I have grown to dislike supermarkets and multi national organisations as well as extended trading hours and days and the conditions staff and customers endure in these centres. It is indicative of the society we have become, both from the consumer and the retailer point of view.
These high-rise complexes lure customers to save money by bulk buying; they encourage over-consumption and waste. Displays at the front of the supermarkets tease our taste buds with salty chips, sugary drinks, fatty chocolate and biscuits all contributing to the obesity problem. While waiting impatiently in long queues at the Post Office, customers are bombarded with options such as coffee cups, picnic blankets, first aid kits and the Pharmacy is happy to up-sell you with the latest range of winter gloves and scarves while you wait quietly for your prescription to be dispensed. When I want to buy new toothbrushes for the family, I want to buy two, not three, not five, just two and without the excessive packaging that takes brute force and industrial scissors to open.
We continued the conversation by recalling what I refer to as “strip shopping” which is my preferred choice when shopping. One of my husband’s favourite memories from early childhood when he was aged about 5 or 6, was to walk from home up the street to the locally owned mixed business where he would fill his pail or bucket with milk from a bulk supply, carefully secure the lid and then proudly carry the heavy container home to his parents for their family breakfast feast. Growing up, my parents did not own a car so Mum and us kids would walk to the butcher, the baker, the greengrocer and the local newsagent. I remember we would stop at the butcher and browse the cuts of meat on display in his window. Often there were times when he would not have the particular cut that Mum had wanted but he always happy to suggest an alternative of similar price.
Part of the shopping experience was the walk to and from the shops, talking to neighbours and friends while leaning on front fences or playing in the dirt in the gutters until Mum finished talking to her friend. We never over-purchased, it was simply just buy enough for what you need now. With a family of six to feed, Mum would create original style curries and fritters with any left-overs and any scraps were used to feed our chooks which provided the family with eggs.
Our Saturday night Happy Hour tradition actually began soon after breakfast when I would drive past the uninviting, concrete shopping complex with its artificial lighting, crowds and cacophony of music, sprookers and announcements to my favourite butcher shop in a small street in a nearby suburb. Parking was always available outside the shop entrance and upon entering there was a welcoming smile from Warren, his daughter and grandson, three generations of skilled butchers. After a chat, Warren would tell me about the Saturday morning special and it was at that precise moment that I knew what dinner would be that night – sometimes a rolled marinated leg of lamb, sometimes a fillet-mignon. Whatever Warren had prepared, I would buy and there was only ever enough for his Saturday morning customers because come 12 noon, the shop was closed and the family returned home just in time to watch their favourite footy team.
Warren made his own small goods and marinades on the premises and would slice steak and other cuts as requested. He was not one for pre-cut meat, piled high on trays on display in fridges. Everything was fresh and I particularly liked that he would cut the bacon thick, not so thin that it disappeared in the hot frypan. Warren’s grandson would proudly carry the parcel to my car parked just at the entrance to the shop. Why would I want to push a stubborn trolley when this kindness was on offer? I was sadden by Warren’s death, but knew that his legacy would continue to shine through his family.
Behind every small business, there is a family.
I choose to “walk the strip” in the fresh air, sunshine, wind, rain, winter or summer.
When I shop, I look for individuality, simplicity, uniqueness.
I like cheerful, smiling faces; I want space so I can stroll.
I simply want to buy what I need, remember to pick-up the beer and wine and return home to enjoy the rest of the day with my husband.