Ride that broomstick…!

When you think of a witch, what image do you conjure up? Is it the one of an unkempt, old crone – dressed in black, with a flowing cape and pointy hat? Is she stirring a cauldron or flying on a broomstick, with her faithful cat? Where on Earth does this notion come from? Blame it on the drugs….

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Going Home tsbl2000 via Foter.com / CC BY-ND Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/68942208@N02/16365078410/

Our vision of what a witch should supposedly look like is a fairly recent concept…. Go back to the pictures drawn by Medieval artists, during the times of the mass hysteria surrounding witchcraft – and a very different story is depicted….Wanton, naked women, cavorting with the Devil – if they did happen to be clothed, it was likely to have been in very ordinary attire of the day; any hat would most probably have been a simple bonnet. It wasn’t until the early 1700s that Western European artists began to draw witches with long pointed hats, possibly to symbolise devil horns, an indication to ‘dark magic’ – very likely coming from the Salem witch trials, after witnesses claimed to have seen the Devil himself – ‘a large man in a high-crowned hat’…. Later, during Victorian times, children’s books elaborated and exaggerated the image, adding the long black flowing cloak….

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“Witches” Artist Hans Baldung 1508 Source: R.Decker, Hexen, Frontispiz (2004) This is a faithful photographic reproduction of a two-dimensional, public domain work of art

Back in the Middle Ages the World would have been a very scary place to live in….lack of scientific knowledge meant answers to the unexplained had to be found elsewhere…. For any situation – good or bad – that could not be accounted for by the obvious – it had to be down to magic…. People lived in constant fear of otherworldly beings….ghosts, fairies, monsters, witches…. At the same time, life was hard in so many other ways – not least the challenge of providing enough food to feed the family; not having the option of nipping to the local supermarket meant finding supplementary foods for the diet in any way possible – foraging was common-place….It is hardly surprising therefore, that certain plants were happened upon that had adverse effects on the body and mind – (indeed, the beginnings of our modern-day medicine can be attributed to some of these discoveries)…. Some of these discoveries would have actually of provided effects on the mind that some would have found rather pleasurable….

We may consider drug taking for recreational purposes a modern-day problem but people have been using mind-altering drugs since prehistoric times…. The earliest evidence of an alcoholic beverage dates back to 7,000-6,600 BC. Pottery shards discovered by archeologists, in the ancient Chinese village of Jiahu, were found to have remnants of an alcoholic drink consisting of ingredients such as rice, honey and fermented fruit….

Archeological finds in Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras suggest hallucinogenic mushrooms were used between 500 BC and 900 AD. Fossil remains of a hallucinogenic cactus – ‘San Pedro’ – were found in a Peruvian cave and date back to between 8,600 and 5,600 BC. Finds in Northern Mexico and Southern Texas of Mescal bean seeds, dating from the end of the 9th millennium BC to 1,000 AD, all point to evidence Mankind has used hallucinogens almost from the beginning of his time on this planet…. A long with proof of opium being used from the mid 6th millennium BC, to South Americans chewing cocoa leaves 8,000 years ago and Argentinians smoking pipes as far back as 2,000 BC – it seems Man has always been getting high on some kind of drug or other….

So, what were they up to in The Middle Ages? As is so often the case, many a discovery is made by accident…. Bread has long been part of the staple diet of the World and Rye-bread would have been the most common type consumed in Medieval Europe…. Rye is susceptible to a fungus called ‘Ergot’ – eaten in large quantities this fungus can be fatal but smaller amounts cause a hallucinogenic reaction. Accounts from between the 14th and 17th Centuries record Europeans dancing through the streets, jabbering nonsense and foaming at the mouth after consuming Rye-bread infected with Ergot. Very often, large groups of people would carry on like this until they collapsed from exhaustion; when asked, they frequently claimed to have seen wild visions…. It became known as St. Vitus’s Dance – so named after the 4th Century Sicilian martyr, St. Vitus – Patron Saint of Dancers. We would nowadays liken the effects of Ergot to those of LSD….

Human nature, being what it is, meant there were those keen to experiment and gain knowledge to exactly what certain plants could do to the body – not always with the best of intentions…. Dabbling with ‘herbal remedies’ and in some cases outright poisons formed the basis of many an accusation of witchcraft….

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Witch’s tools http://www.chrisbirds.com via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/118292762@N02/16339427989/

In 1324, Lady Alice Kyteler was the first ever accused witch in Ireland….after some very damning evidence collected with which to condemn her…. Alice Kyteler was born as an only child in 1280 – By all accounts, those who knew her, thought her to be arrogant and bossy – she wasn’t much liked…. However, certain aristocratic gentlemen seemed to find her attractive and she went through a quick succession of wealthy husbands, each coming to an untimely end…. Rumours began to circulate…. At the age of 44, Alice was on her 4th husband, Sir John Le Poer…. Eventually, as the rumours became more rife, Le Poer became suspicious and carried out a search of his wife’s bed-chamber…. What he found were items referring to the Devil and evidence that Alice was an expert in the art of poisoning. Drawing the conclusion that she intended him to be her next victim, Le Poer sent his finds to the Bishop of Ossory….

The Bishop, one Richard De Ledrede, was a man on a mission – he was obsessed with exposing witches…. Alice, her son – William Outlawe (from her first marriage) and her personal maid, Petronilla de Meath, were all arrested….

The rumours continued to grow, stories became embroidered – tales of her sacrificing animals, performing black magic in local churches and carrying on with a strange man called Robert Artisson – who some believed could manifest himself as a black cat – (was this a symbolisation of the Devil?) – all added fuel to the fire…. The Bishop, although he hunted rigorously, never did manage to find this elusive man….

It all became too clear that Alice had indeed murdered her previous 3 husbands and aimed to kill her 4th…. Her reason? Pure greed, a desire to gain more money….

However, the Bishop did not have the power to bring Alice to trial…. Witchcraft and sorcery was overseen by the Lord Chancellor of Ireland, who happened at the time to be a certain Roger Outlawe, a relative of her first husband…. Outlawe and other rich relatives supported Alice and had the Bishop imprisoned within a castle for 18 days…. On eventually regaining his freedom, De Ledrede resumed his quest to bring Alice to justice….but by then she had fled to England, leaving behind her maid and even her son to face the consequences…. William begged for forgiveness, which he was granted – but in return he had to pay for a new roof for St. Mary’s Cathedral…. The maid, Petronilla did not have such luck – under torture she admitted Alice had taught her the art of witchcraft…. She was flogged and burnt at the stake on November 3rd 1324…. Alice was never heard of again….

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Burning witches, with others held in stocks 14th Century Author: Anonymous Public Domain Source: http://molcat1.bl.uk/llllmages/Ekta%5Cmid/E124/E124110.jpg

There are many plants Alice could have used to make her poisons…. Some of the most common belong to the Solanaceae family. Consisting of approximately 98 genera and some 2,700 species, many of these plants will be very familiar to us today….potatoes, tomatoes, aubergines, peppers, chillies, foxgloves, petunias, tobacco and deadly nightshade to name but a very few….

Written references to deadly nightshade being used as a ‘flying ointment’ go back to at least the 9th Century…. Deadly nightshade, if taken orally, can speed up the heart and be fatal; however, when applied to the skin in small quantities it can cause hallucinations…. People began to make the connection to how certain plants could make an impact upon them and started to experiment in how to use them safely…. Mixing a concoction of deadly nightshade, hemlock, henbane, mandrake and wolfbane, usually in a base of animal fat, produced a potent balm called ‘flying ointment’…. All of these plants contain hallucinogenic chemicals known as ‘tropane alkaloids’ – causing vivid dreams that take the user to another world of fantasy – full of pleasure….feasting, dancing, singing and loving…. (apparently)….  Perhaps not so much ‘black magic’ but simply chemistry…. For those who found the World a particularly hard place to live in back in the day – such escapism must have been so very tempting…. For women, particularly, exploring their own sexuality, liberation and self-pleasure – totally unthinkable at the time – this would have been seen as a link to the Devil himself….

However, ingesting any of these ingredients causes a problem, in the form of nausea and vomiting. It became realised that the body can absorb in other ways….namely through the sweat glands – particularly those located in the armpits and genital regions….

Now…. I have often wondered why witches are associated with broomsticks – but never in a million years would I have suspected a reason such as this…! The broomstick, or besom broom, a symbol of feminine domesticity – yet at the same time, a phallic, sexual symbol – or perhaps in the case of the witch – one of femininity gone wild and out of control….

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Image from page 293 of “St. Nicholas [serial]” (1873) Internet Archive Book Images via Foter.com / No known copyright restrictions Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/internetarchivebook images/14772736232/
The besom broom was often used in Pagan fertility rituals….poles, pitchforks, brooms – in fact anything resembling a phallic object – were carried by folk dancing through the fields, jumping as high as they could, to encourage the crops to grow…. Then there is the traditional ‘jumping of the broomstick’, a feature of the Wicca hand-fasting ceremony – the broom being a reference to new beginnings, sweeping away the old…. The besom is also used in Wicca to cleanse and purify a space which is to be used for a ritual ceremony – sweeping out negative energies….

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Jumping the broom! morgan.cauch via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/67297972@N04/6444876189/

So, why the connection with the witch of the Middle Ages? For that, we need to refer back to the application of that ‘flying ointment’…. Having discovered it could be applied to the sweat glands, especially those that are in a very intimate place if you happened to be a woman, a utensil was required in order to apply it…. What better than the handle of one of the most common household items – the humble broomstick!! Yes, I’m serious….they really did do just what you’re thinking…. It puts a whole new definition on ‘riding that broomstick’…!

“In rifleing the closet of the ladie,
they found a pipe of oyntment,
wherewith she greased a staffe,
upon which she ambled and galloped
through thick and thin….” – English historian Raphael Holinshed – 1324 –
with reference to the evidence collected against Lady Alice Kyteler…

“The vulgar believe, and the witches confess,
that on certain days or nights they anoint a staff
and ride on it to the appointed place or anoint
themselves under the arms and in other hairy places….”
– Theologian Jordanes de Bergamo – ‘Quastio de Strigis’ – 1470

I will never look at a broomstick in the same way again….

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Besom in the Corner It’sGreg via Foter.com / CC BY-ND Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/itsgreg/514745734/

 

Moving mountains….

For me, the best time of the year has to be Spring…. New beginnings – the promise of Summer to come….anticipating long hot sunny days and warm, balmy evenings…. After enduring months of dreary winter weather, surely we deserve just this? OK – this particular summer started on a very positive note – soaring temperatures, unbroken spells of sunshine…but then – Well! What the hell happened? The jet stream apparently….

I can’t moan too much…. I am very fortunate, as I have just had a fabulous two-week holiday in a part of the World that has become very dear to me…. When I first met John, nearly 15 years ago, he introduced me to a region in the South of France, somewhere very special to him…. A place we have visited almost every year since…

In the early days we would all travel down together; leaving at a very anti-social hour to catch an early ferry from Dover to Calais. The car would be fully laden, every inch of available space utilised – one year we even transported a sofa bed on the roof….

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It was never the most comfortable of journeys, one that took the best part of 36 hours, including an overnight stop. John loves the drive – Jordan and I are less keen…. The final straw for me came the year we were unable to find somewhere to stay overnight and ended up ‘kipping’ in the car….only to breakdown the following morning, on the motorway just as we were about to cross the Millau Bridge… Not an ideal start to a holiday – especially as this particular one was rather special – it was our honeymoon…!

Nowadays, things are much more civilised. John still drives down – he heads off a couple of weeks before us, taking all our baggage and paraphernalia with him…. He’s happy – as he gets a bit of time to himself, does a few chores and unwinds…. Jordan and I then fly down to join him – leaving home at a very respectable 11am and arriving in Perpignan around 7 in the evening – where John meets us….

I love making the journey this way – it’s far more relaxed and I get to spend a little quality time with my son. Once landed, we’re off the plane, through passport control – and as we have no baggage – we’re out of the airport and into the car in a jiffy…. Perfect….!

Once we are out of the hustle and bustle of Perpignan, we’re on the road across the Plain of Roussillon to Llauro, a French Catalonian village, about half an hour’s drive away…. As the scenery rolls by I look out for the familiar landmarks, not least the majestic peaks of the mountain the is Le Canigou….

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It is perhaps its isolation that makes Canigou stand out so much – whereas other mountains are surrounded by massive peaks within their range, Pic du Canigou stands proudly alone…. At an elevation of 2,784m (9134ft) it was, until the 18th Century, thought to be the highest peak of the Pyrénées – (This accolade actually goes to Anéto in the Province of Huesca, at 3,404m or 11,168ft)…. By mountain standards,  Canigou is not a massive peak, it is only the 395th highest in France alone….but this does not make it any less impressive….

Visible from much of Southern Languedoc-Roussillon, Canigou lies west of Perpignan and about 10km, as the crow flies, from Prades, a small town in the Eastern Pyrénées – and is within the Parc Naturel regional des Pyrénées Catalanes (Regional Natural Park of the Catalan Pyrenees). Canigou became a Listed Grand Site de France in 2002….

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Le Canigou Museumdetoulouse via Foter.com / CC BY Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/museumdetoulouse/5953252959/

To the people of Catalan it is the sacred mountain – ‘La Muntanya Sagrada’. Canigou is a symbol of unity for those living on different sides of the border but sharing the same land….a physical and spiritual landmark…. For many, to climb it, is in fact a pilgrimage….

Many myths and legends surround the mountain and being the spiritual home of Catalan it is a place where French and Spanish Catalonians gather for certain celebrations. One such time being the Nuit de Saint-Jean – or the eve of Saint John’s Day – on the 23rd of June (which also coincides with the Summer Solstice). Saint John’s Day is the feast day of Saint John the Baptist – ‘Féte de la Saint-Jean’ – and is a Catholic celebration. On the night of the 23rd a fire is lit on the summit of Canigou – known as the ‘Flama del Canigó’ – the Ceremony of the Canigou Flame. A vigil is held throughout the night and from the flame torches are lit and relayed all across the Pyrenees and Catalonia, to light bonfires elsewhere…. Some sources say up to 30,000 fires are ignited from this flame….

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Flama del Canigo 2014 Ajuntament de Cubelles via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/ajcubelles/14503731145/

The weekend before Saint John’s Day sees the ‘Trobade’, which comes from the Catalan ‘Trobada’ – meaning ‘meeting’. Bundles of wood are taken to the summit where they are deposited – hidden within these bundles are messages of friendship, love and peace….

The first Sunday in August is also a notable date in the Canigou calendar – it is when the ‘Course du Canigou’ or Canigou Race takes place. It entails a 34km course, with a 2,180m climb, from the spa resort town of Vernet-les-Bains at the base of Canigou, to the summit and then back again…. Not for the faint hearted…!

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Vernet les Bains et le Pic du Canigou Thierry Llansades via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/llansades/19021462329/

Personally, I have yet to climb to the summit of Canigou, the furthest I have been is to the Chalet des Cortalets, one of the starting points often chosen by those making a more serious ascent…. My son puts me to shame in this respect, he and John climbed to the top a while ago, when Jordan was just eleven or twelve years old….

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The locals often say it is a savage mountain….the weather can be unpredictable, with fog and storms arriving with very little warning. In deed this was the case the time I visited, one moment it was glorious sunshine – the next we were amidst a ferocious thunderstorm…. So it is advisable to check the forecast thoroughly before attempting to make an ascent and to be aware the weather can change in an instant…. The best time to climb is June to September; it is wise to leave early in the morning to avoid the heat of the day. Some choose to spend the night before at one of the refuges, for example Cortalets, where  climbers and walkers can sleep, cook and refresh free of charge…. There is also a café at Cortalets….

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Massif du Canigou, Refuge de la Jasse des Cortalets Thierry llansades via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND Original image source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/llansades/35317991041/

On the North side of the mountain there are jeep tracks; it is possible to drive a certain distance before having to resort to foot…. There is more than one way to tackle the climb – a popular choice is from the afore-mentioned Chalet des Cortalets; at 2,150m it is roughly a 3.5 hour round trip to the summit and back. Another well-known route is from the Mariailles Refuge – this is, perhaps, for more seasoned adventurers as it is approximately an 8 hour round trip….

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From the base to between 800 to 1,000m a Mediterranean climate prevails; between 1,000 to 1,700m it becomes a mountain climate. Venture up further, between 1,700 and 2,300m a sub-alpine climate is found and then 2,300m to the top it is an alpine climate…. Generally snow is continuous over 1,800m from mid-November through to May….

On the way up there is plenty of flora and fauna waiting to be discovered; you never know you may just spot a marmot or a vulture and there are plenty of eagles to be seen soaring in the skies….

On reaching the summit there is a cross to be found – often decorated with the Catalan flag and always adorned with offerings from climbers and pilgrims alike…. There is also an orientation table….

The view from the top is that of the Pyrénées Mountain range, the Roussillon Plain and the Mediterranean Sea…. On a clear day, Barcelona can be seen, which is 200km south, as the crow flies….

It is said the first ascent of the mountain was made by Peter III of Aragon in 1285 – (there is some discrepancy, as recorded by Italian monk – Fra Salimbene – as to whether he actually made it to the summit). Legend has it the king claimed to have thrown a stone into a lake on the mountain…. From the water emerged a dragon, so vast that when it flew into the sky it obscured the sun, blotting out the daylight….

For those not brave enough to attempt the climb to the summit, Canigou has two ancient monasteries at its foot that are well worth a visit….Saint-Michel-de-Cuxa and Martin-du-Canigou….

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Abbaye Saint-Michel-de-Cuxa Phillipe Garcelon via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA Original image URL: https://flickr.com/photos/philgar/14819474690/

We visited Abbey-Saint-Martin last year. Quite a steep climb that zig-zags up the mountain side – but I’m glad we made the effort…. Built on a rocky peak, at the beginning of the 11th Century, by Count Guifred, it was a Benedictine Abbey for 800 years. It eventually fell into ruins but has since been restored and is now a spiritual retreat for members of the Communauté des Béatitudes – who are very welcoming to visitors, so during the holiday season it does tend to be quite busy…. On reaching the top, one simply has to take the path that climbs above the Abbey – to look down on what is one of the most stunning views imaginable….

The great-grandfather of Count Guifred was reportedly the founder of the Catalan dynasty. According to legend it was he who created the Catalan flag. Mortally injured in battle, he dipped his fingers into his own blood and drew them across his shield, creating four red stripes….he declared this was to become the ‘flag of Catalan’….

The first written references found relating to Canigou are in Latin from 949; ‘Montis Canigonis’ and ‘Monte Canigone’. The first written Catalan reference dates to 1300; ‘Canigó’ – from this comes the French – ‘Canigou’….

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Image taken from page 189of ‘Promenades dans les Pyrenees. (2e Serie.) [with illustrations.] The British Library via Foter.com / No known copy right restrictions Original image source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/britishlibrary/11220814564/
One of the greatest Catalan poets, Spanish writer Jacint Verdaguer (1845-1902), celebrates Canigou in his works. In 1877 he wrote ‘Canigó, L’Atlàntida’ – an epic poem consisting of ten books! In it he covers many wonders such as the creation of the Mediterranean Sea, the discovery of the Americas and the sinking of Atlantis…. Manuel de Falla’s opera, ‘Atlàntida’ is based upon it….

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Jacint Verdaguer, per Ramon Casas, 1901 Diari La Veu – http://diarilaveu.com via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/diariveu/27458499185/

Canigou can only be described as one such wonder in itself….the way its majestic beauty dominates the Roussillon Plain…. Sometimes it looks peaceful and calm, with the sunlight glinting upon it…. Other times it looks moody and angry…. Occasionally it can’t be seen at all, as it is shrouded in mist and cloud…. Whatever mood Canigou is in – I, for one, never tire of looking at it….

At the end of each holiday it’s time to pack the car up again for the return journey. We all drive back together as I have not successfully managed to persuade John that it is absolutely necessary for Jordan and I to fly both ways…. It is an epic 18 hour non-stop door to door trip – and quite frankly a bit of a killer…. When we set off at first light I take one last look at Canigou – waking from its slumber – and I whisper ‘au revoir – until next time’…. I like to think Canigou bestows a little of its magic upon us, to see us home safe and sound….

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Accumulations….

Here in the UK about a third of us can be classified as ‘collectors’ – and we are far from being alone – all across the World there are like-minded people adding to their own accumulations; a collection of collections which is more diverse and varied than most of us can possibly imagine….from the simple, to the sublime, to even the outright bizarre….

For many of us, collecting is something that begins in childhood; it may be trading cards, Lego, stamps, Barbie dolls – whatever captures the young imagination…. For my son, in his infant days, it was an insatiable appetite for Thomas the Tank Engine – we still have a huge stash of die-cast models up in the loft (I think he’s quietly hoping they may one day increase in value)…. Later he moved on to Lego – I’m currently badgering him to do something about his hoard – it is surprising how much space it takes up….

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Lego photo credit Foter.com

The thrill of coming across that elusive Pokémon card or that hard to find action figure….that feeling of satisfaction…. Of course, those feelings don’t necessarily disappear upon reaching adulthood, very often we elevate to more elaborate things to amass – frequently with a passion and sometimes even with an obsession….

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Trading Cards Minhimalism via Foter.com / CC BY-ND Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/minhimalism/5516898844/

It is only over the last 150 years or so that everyday people have begun to collect. More disposable income, an increase in leisure time, the advent of consumerism and having more personal space has allowed the magpies amongst us to indulge our whims….

In 1892 the US Mint produced its first commemorative coins, to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Europeans arriving in the Americas. Nowadays, the commemorative coin market is worth a mint in itself…. Obviously it’s not just coins that are produced purely for the collector; plates, figurines, stamps, soft toys, t-shirts – the list is endless…. Memorabilia is another area that often attracts – be it a Royal wedding or maybe a national event, people like souvenirs…. I doubt if there are many households in Britain that don’t have at least one mug, spoon or plate commemorating the Queen’s Golden Jubilee….

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God bless you maam Project 365(3) Day 11 Keith Williamson via Foter.com / CC BY Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/elwillo/6919761373/

Then there’s celebrity memorabilia; an autograph (or more likely these days a selfie with one’s favourite celeb), perhaps a lock of hair, underwear…. Yes! I’m serious – a quick on-line search might well reveal just how much a famous person’s knickers can fetch….

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Photo credit: express.co.uk

Household trade brands were quick to recognise the potential of producing relative paraphernalia – often involving trademark characters, such as Homepride’s Fred, Robinsons Gollies – or what about those Natwest Piggies so many of us aspired to – how could we ever forget those?…

Personally, I am old enough to remember a time before teabags became the norm…. I recall, as a nipper, hanging around excitedly when my mother opened a new packet of tea – waiting to see what the enclosed card would be…. I never took it as far as trying to complete a set – but plenty of people did – what a brilliant way for companies to ensure customer loyalty…. Cigarette cards were another biggie of the time – smoking may no longer be in vogue but those cards have managed to remain a mainstay in the world of collecting….

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Roses Cigarette Card Effervescing Elephant via Foter.com / CC BY-SA Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/cr01/5584111357/

Sometimes a craze takes the Planet by storm; one particular one that springs to mind is the Beanie Baby phenomenon back in the late 90s…. At the time I had two gift shops and stocked the collectable little bean bags…. When a new delivery came in, very often it became what can only be described as pandemonium…. I have witnessed grown adults fighting over some of the more desirable of what were essentially intended to be children’s toys…. Such was the secondary market that certain Beanie Babies changed hands for hundreds, sometimes even thousands, of pounds…. I feel a little embarrassed to admit I still have a large collection myself, taking up room at my mum’s house (and I have the audacity to complain about Jordan’s Lego)….

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Sometimes companies will collaborate and work in affiliation with each other; sticking with the Beanie Baby theme, Ty and McDonald’s did just that – with a range of Teenie Beanies produced for McDonald’s Happy Meals…. Collecting the free toys given away with Happy Meals is in itself a pastime enjoyed by many – but did you know, Mike Fountaine, owner of McDonald’s, has over 75,000 pieces of memorabilia from his World famous burger restaurant chain, occupying 7,000 sq ft of his home?…

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McDonald’s jun560 via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/47741487@N06/34376741161/

Of course, collecting is a very personal thing – maybe it could be a preference for a certain kind of animal: cows, owls, cats, dogs, ducks etc etc…. Sometimes collections happen by accident…. Having acquired a spinning wheel, which resides in our sitting room, it has over the last few years become home to an array of various ornamental sheep…. Naturally, when it becomes known that someone has a collection of a particular item (or theme), they can expect to receive related gifts, when it comes to birthdays and other such occasions….

Soft toys are often a popular thing to collect, perhaps because they have a nostalgic link to our childhoods; characters such as Winnie the Pooh are always a favourite. Dolls such as Barbie or Raggedy Ann remain firm contenders – Troll dolls are another example; one collector, Sherry Groom, has more than 3,500…. Then there’s the occasional quirky collectors….one couple own 240 blow-up dolls (yes, you know the ones)….they like to dress them and treat them like members of the family….

Me, I’ve got a soft spot for teddy bears…. There’s not a room in this house that doesn’t have at least a couple of bears lurking somewhere…. My weakness is for those German bears with the tag in the ear….

To be honest though, I find it hard to resist any bear…. My collection will never rival that of Jackie Miley though, who has over 7,000 of our furry friends…. The other collection that appears to be growing in this household is themed around witches – there seems to be at least one of those in every room too…. now, I can’t think why – but there again I do believe there are those who consider I might be one….

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Sometimes people may accumulate things associated with their profession, be it of a humorous nature or more directly connected….maybe vintage tools of the trade or examples of the end product…. Former milkman, Paul Luke, boasts over 10,000 different types of milk bottle….

Men and women are equally likely to collect….occasionally crossing the stereotypical boundaries….  Perhaps the largest collection of women’s dresses belongs to German, Paul Brockman – who owns more than 55,000 of them – (although in his defence, he claims they are for his wife)…. Now, there’s one wardrobe I wouldn’t mind having a rummage through….

Housing large collections can cause a few headaches – especially for those living in the same space as the collector. Sure, there are those lucky enough to be able to devote an entire room to their passion but for many every available nook and cranny gets taken over. I wonder where Valli Hammer keeps 2,450 rubber ducks and where does UK’s David Morgan store his 137 traffic cones? Then there’s Russian Grigori Fleicher with over 1,300 toothbrushes and the Dutch collector who has more than 6,000 air-line sick bags….

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Sick Bag by Jill Hadfield Map of the Urban Linguistic Landscape via Foter.com / CC BY Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/mapurbanlinguisticlandscape/14229060841/

There is no end to the odd things people collect…. I found a huge quantity of shower caps acquired from hotels, whilst helping to clear my mother-in-law’s house…. My own mum used to save those little sticky labels that often come attached to individual fruit and vegetables…. She used to stick them to the inside of a kitchen cupboard door and over time built up quite a collage of them…. Collecting is such an individual thing, it can be whatever captures the heart – like Italian David Andreani, who has Coca Cola cans from nearly every country in the World; or Carsten Tews from Germany, with over 1,500 different mobile phones….

Then there is the more bizarre…. Graham Barker collects belly button fluff….his own admittedly; he began accumulating it in 1984 and now has over 21 grams of the stuff stored in jars…. Or how about a hoard of 24,999 toe nail clippings? Gathered for a scientific study in 2013, this has to be one of the more gruesome accumulations….

There are those who particularly like gruesome or even ghoulish…. Victorian surgeons’ equipment is an area some find interesting – but how about corpse tattoos? Tattoos are  removed from dead bodies, preserved with mummification and stretched so they become translucent and are presented mounted under glass…. Or what about murderabilia? Artwork produced by convicted serial killers….it might sound like a very odd thing to collect but it is extremely popular on-line….

Then there’s those who collect things that many of us may find very distasteful…. I used to work with a chap who had an interest in Nazi memorabilia. He used to wear a ring which he claimed was made from gold taken from the teeth of victims of the Holocaust – I personally found that absolutely horrifying and abhorrent….

On a lighter note – I naturally come into contact with many a collector through my line of work…. Being a dealer in vintage/antique I am often asked if I ever come across certain items and pieces – I have met some fascinating people and it never ceases to amaze me to the variety of things folk choose to collect…. For every person who collects something, from the man who acquires vintage cars to the woman who accumulates kitchenalia….they do it for a reason….it gives them pleasure. Some may not understand, how what to them is an ordinary and mundane object, can be another’s passion – take for example those who collect antiquities – I, for one, totally get that – (well, I would wouldn’t I)? I hope long may they continue to enjoy their passion – purely for selfish reasons – it gives me an excuse to continue indulging my own – one which I’m also lucky enough to call my job….

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Striding down the road to knowledge….

To me it seems such a short time ago that we moved into what was then a ‘building site’…. It was the beginning of September 2005; I had always been adamant we were not going to live in a half completed house and that the renovations had to be finished before Jordan started school….but so often these things don’t go according to plan…. That is how we found ourselves frantically moving into a semi-derelict cottage the day before Jordan took his place in the reception class of a local primary school…. A rather chaotic and stressful beginning to his academic life….

How the time has flown – this week Jordan’s school year will be celebrating the end of the exam season and their final year at secondary school, in the way that has become customary in the UK – with their school prom….

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CXO Prom 2017 danxoneil via Foter.com / CC BY Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/juggernautco/34492830791/

I have to admit, the school prom is a completely new experience for me too…. A fairly recent tradition that has taken the best part of a century to cross the Atlantic from the States…. I left school in the early 80s – I can’t remember if we even had a leaver’s disco, let alone a prom! How things have changed…. On Thursday evening Jordan and his school friends will be attending a formal dinner dance at a rather plush wine estate in Dorking…. His new suit, bought for the occasion, is hanging on the back of his bedroom door; he has a new shirt, tie, pocket-chief and shoes, to complete the ensemble…. I perhaps ought to think myself lucky I have a son, I can only imagine the preparations (and expense) for those with daughters….

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Day 23 …girls just wanna have fun! @RunRockPrincess via Foter.com / CC BY-ND Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/thotmeglynn/4594197800/

With over 85% of schools now holding leaver’s proms in the UK, it is a massive business; over £100 million a year is collectively spent countrywide on the occasion – prom dresses/suits (hair, makeup, nails, accessories etc), transport, the venue…. Then there’s year books, leaver’s hoodies…. so it goes on…. Some parents can expect to fork-out up to £1,500! It is now a huge industry and this year is set to be the biggest yet….

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Standing beside limo jabzoog via Foter.com / CC BY Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/capricious/122097511/

It is hard to think, that less than 150 years ago it was not even a legal requirement to attend school at all….

The oldest school in the UK, Kings School, Canterbury, was founded in Saxon times, in 597. During the Middle Ages schools were established to teach Latin grammar to boys from aristocratic families, mainly for those being prepared to enter the Clergy. During Tudor times, under Edward IV’s reign, the system was reformed, to provide ‘free grammar schools’. Theoretically, these were open to anyone – but the majority of poorer families could not spare their children, they were needed for work, their labour bringing in much-needed income to the family….

Up until the late 19th Century the majority of education was organised by the Church, concentrating mainly on religious studies and the teaching of Latin and Greek. The University of Oxford was set up in affiliation with the Church, shortly followed by Cambridge…. For many a child, the only education received was in the form of Sunday school; by 1831 some 1,250,000 children attended Sunday school – this is often seen as the beginning of the British school system as we know it….

Children in wealthier families may have had a governess who would have taught them at home until they were 10 years old. Boys would usually have gone on to public school, whilst girls might have continued education at home. Other children may have attended ‘charity schools’, (informal village schools); or they may have gone to ‘dame schools’. These were run by school mistresses and were basically private schools at the lower end of the scale – they were often very basic, teaching only spelling, occasionally maths and grammar, depending on the mistress’s own abilities…. Many of these lessons were conducted in the school mistress’s own home….sometimes a purpose-built building was available ( a few of these still survive today – a nearby village to here, Thursley, has one within its churchyard)…. Although given the name ‘charity schools’, they were not exactly that, they were not free of charge. In 1870 the Education Act stated schools could charge no more than 9 pence per week per child; it wasn’t until 1891 that free education became available….

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Victorian School Photograph at Frenchay Church of England School brizzle born and bred via Foter.com / CC BY-ND Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/brizzlebornandbred/8524545330/

It was actually in August 1833 that the State became involved in education, allocating money for schools to be built for poorer children in England and Wales – (Scotland had begun its programme in the 17th Century)…. In 1837 a bill for public education was presented to Parliament…. In 1880 the Elementary Education Act made it compulsory for 5-10 year olds to be educated (with the exception of blind or deaf children). This was not popular amongst many poorer families; tempted to keep their youngsters out earning, they risked a visit from the ‘Attendance Officer’…. Only when a child had reached the required satisfactory level of educational standard were they issued with a School Certificate, enabling them to work. If this certificate could not be produced by any working child under the age of 13, the employer in question could face heavy penalties….

In 1893, the Elementary Education (School Attendance) Act raised the minimum leaving age to 11, this time including blind and deaf children on a voluntary basis, (by now specialist schools were being introduced). An amendment in 1899 raised the age to 12, a further amendment raised it to 13 and made attendance compulsory for blind and deaf children…. During the late Victorian era the grammar school curriculum was brought up to date but Latin was still taught….

In 1944 the school-leaving age became 15 and on 1st September 1972 it increased to 16…. Of course, things have changed again recently….unless taking up an apprenticeship, it is now a legal requirement to remain in full-time education until the age of 18….

The first exams for schools were introduced in 1858, the schools themselves demanding them as a way of determining achievement levels. Universities, such as Oxford and Cambridge were asked to produce them so boys could sit exams in their home towns (they may have been sat at the school or somewhere like a church or village hall)…. Girls were not permitted to sit exams until 1867….

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Girl Scholars 1895 Sunderland Public Libraries via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/sunderlandpubliclibraries/3680817889/

The first exams took place on the 14th December 1858. There were 2 levels; Junior (for the under 16s) and Senior (for 16s to 18s). Subjects included: English Language and Literature, History, Geography, Geology, Greek, Latin, German, French, Political Economy, Mathematics, Arithmetic, Music, Physical Sciences, Chemistry, Zoology and Religious Knowledge (although parents had the right to withdraw their child from this particular one)….

Examiners would arrive wearing full academic dress, carrying a locked box containing the exam papers. Nowadays, the papers are sent in advance, schools appoint their own invigilators and the papers are returned for marking. Even that is changing though; with the advent of ‘e-testing’, exam papers could well become a thing of the past….

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Day138/365 Kennysarmy via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/kennysarmy/8721165482/

In 1944 the 11 plus exam was introduced, determining whether a child should attend a grammar, technical or secondary modern school for their senior education. It wasn’t until 1964 that comprehensive schools (a school for mixed abilities serving a specific catchment area) were proposed by Harold Wilson’s Labour government….

A General Certificate of Education (GCE), O-levels and A-levels were introduced in 1951 (replacing the School Certificate) – but these were mainly for those attending grammar schools. Some education authorities brought in their own exams for those not eligible to take GCEs and in 1965 the CSE was introduced as an alternative. O-levels and CSEs were then replaced by the GCSE in 1988. In 1995 a further set of tests, often referred to as SATs, were introduced for children aged 7, 11 and 14….

Back in those early days, exams took place over the period of a week….papers were sat morning, afternoon and evening. Nowadays, the exam season extends over 2 months in early Summer. Expectations of students were also very different in the beginning, vast amounts of information had to be learnt off by heart…. A more flexible approach now means students are allowed to demonstrate they can analyse information and show they can apply knowledge and understanding….

Modern day thinking takes the view that children should be encouraged to ask questions in order to learn. In days gone by this was not the case; the belief was that children had to be taught to behave in a correct manner; “children should be seen and not heard” – “spare the rod and spoil the child”. This ‘reasoning’ stemmed from religious views, the Christian belief that mankind was born with a tendency to sin and do wrong. Discipline in Victorian schools probably had to be tough due to large class sizes. Any form of physical punishment today is viewed as abuse; Victorians certainly had no such view – slipper, belt, cane – sometimes it really must have been a severe case of abuse, cruel adults unable to show restraint….both in school and at home…. Poland was the first country to abolish corporal punishment in schools, in 1783. It took English state schools until the late 1980s to follow suit (2000 for Scotland, 2003 for Northern Ireland) and in Britain’s private/public schools right up to 1999. Nowadays corporal punishment is not practised in any European country (although some parts of the World still use it)….

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Junior School Punishment Book theirhistory via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/22326055@N06/3598627253/

There are those who would argue the cane should be brought back, a little discipline should be instilled. I don’t know, perhaps it is just good fortune – but having just had a child go through the state education system, up to the point of starting college, it has been nothing but an exceptionally positive experience. I have always admired the level of respect both teachers and pupils have shown to each other and there has been a genuine desire from the students to learn and do well…. The kids have worked so damned hard towards these exams; now they are over and prom night is upon us. I hope every single one of them has a fantastic time….they deserve it….X

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Happy School Kids ‘playingwithbrushes’ via Foter.com / CC BY Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/playingwithpsp/1578887549/

 

A nation of shopkeepers….

It is a busy time at the moment – sorting through my stock ready for when I move into the antiques centre at the end of this month – At the same time, I can’t resist looking for one or two more unusual bits, to add to the flavour…. I was particularly excited this last week to happen across a Victorian butter churn…. I had to have it….

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Butter dates back to 2000BC; possibly it may have been discovered accidentally. The first butter was produced by putting milk into bags made of animal skin and then literally shaking until the milk and fat separated…. It is quite likely this process came to light when milk was being transported by animal….

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Rollin’ USFS Region 5 via Foter.com / CC BY Original image source: https://www.flickr.com/usfsregion5/16188477770/

Butter churns have probably been around since the 6th Century…. There are different variations of them but all use the same concept….to agitate the liquid until separation…. The buttermilk is then strained off (and can be used in cooking and baking), leaving behind the creamy butter…. To speed up the process, cream skimmed off the milk could be used; well into the 1800s this was done by simply allowing the milk to sour a little – but by the late Victorian / early Edwardian times cream separators became available….

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Edwardian stoneware cream separator – one method used to separate cream from milk….

The more familiar styles of butter churn are: The Plunge Churn – (also known as the Up and Down Churn) – an upright container, with a pole inserted through the top, which is then moved up and down vertically….

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Butter Churn and Washboard chris league via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA Original image source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/chrisleague/450847202/

The Barrel Churn – a barrel with a handle attached, that either turns paddles within or rotates the whole barrel itself….

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butter churn Steve Slater (used to be Wildlife Encountered) via Foter.com / CC BY Original image source : https://www.flickr.com/photos/wildlife_encounters/9247055775/

Or, The Paddle Churn – a container with paddles inside, that are turned by a handle…. The butter churn I acquired this week is of the latter form; it is French in origin and full of rustic charm…. The paddles inside are made of wood, with cut-outs in the shapes of heart, diamond, club and spade, as in a pack of playing cards….

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The crank handle on the outside still turns the paddles and so I guess it’s in full working order…. Theoretically, butter could be made – I don’t think I will be giving it a go, though – I’ll stick to buying my butter from the shop….

In years gone by, it would have been very much my job to make sure the family had butter, an essential part of a woman’s daily work…. Even producing the most simple of meals, such as a breakfast of boiled eggs, toast and jam required much effort…. After tending the chickens and collecting the eggs, the bread needed to be made and baked, ready to be slathered with freshly churned butter and home-made jam…. At least in more recent times it became possible to nip down the village shop….

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Image from page 10 of “The days of long ago, and Immortality (Antithesis of “The Rubaiyat”)”(1909) Internet Archive Books via Foter.com / No known copyright restrictions Original image source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/internetarchivebookimages/14790395683/

Mankind has been trading his wares for centuries…. The Ancient Greeks had their ‘agoras’ and the Romans their ‘forums’ – market places to you and I…. The Romans were even known to use shopping lists – one was found close to Hadrian’s Wall – dating to 75-125CE (current era, the numbering system for the Julian and Gregorian calendars)…. The Middle Ages saw street hawkers, markets and fairs…. As the 1600s approached, the average Englishman’s purchasing power increased….the demand for sugar, tea, cotton and luxury goods rose….the beginnings of consumerism. Market places expanded…. In 1609 the first shopping ‘centre’ was opened in the Strand, London, by politician, Robert Cecil, the first earl of Salisbury…. This was the start of specific streets and areas being designated to retail….

The first plate-glass windows arrived in the late 18th Century, allowing displays to entice customers in…. A tailor’s shop in Charing Cross was amongst the first to install such windows…. Department stores also arrived in the late 1700s….the first is believed to be Harding, Howell & Co. of Pall Mall, in 1796; it closed 24 years later, after the partnership dissolved. During the 1840s and 50s department stores took off in a big way across the UK, France and USA….

Most villages would have had a village shop…. A centre of the community, where locals would meet and exchange news and gossip….where the proprietor knew most of his customers by name…. Very often, these little shops were a life-line to some of the village’s residents….

 

Britain’s oldest surviving shop is the Boxford Stores, in Suffolk. Documented evidence shows it was first used as a warehouse for the buying and selling of wool and fabric. It has been in continuous service as a shop since 1528, when it was rented to Thomas Rastall, a butcher…. Over the centuries it has accommodated a variety of retail businesses, including green grocers, iron mongers and drapers…. Concerns were raised in 2015 that it may close as a shop, when ownership changed hands – but it was bought by two businessmen and it now trades as a green grocers and delicatessen….

 

The corner shop is the urban equivalent to the traditional village store….both have been facing a struggle to survive, many have already disappeared. Very often, small shops are family run businesses; because of other opportunities available to them, it is often the case that the children of the family don’t want to take over the running of the business. Of course, the other main reason for their demise is competition from the ‘big boys’…. Smaller premises means the variety of produce available is limited and with their larger purchasing power, supermarkets can very often sell goods at much cheaper prices….

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Premier chrisinplymouth via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA Original image source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/chrisinplymuth/7182920710/

The concept of the self-service grocery store came about in 1916. On the 6th of September of that year, American grocer, Clarence Saunders opened his first ‘Piggly Wiggly’ store at 79, Jefferson Avenue, Memphis, Tennessee…. By 1922 he had 1,200 stores across the States and by 1932 the number had risen to 2,600….

 

The first supermarket to be opened in the UK was by the Cooperative Society on the 12th of January  1948, in Manor Park, London…. (Sainsbury’s first opened in 1950, followed by Tesco in 1954)….

Up until that point, shopping meant a trip to several different stores….the butcher, fish monger, green grocer, baker etc…. It meant queuing at the counter, waiting for purchases to be weighed, measured and packaged….which all took a considerable amount of time….

On that first morning of the brand new Co-op store opening, housewives queued outside in the freezing January cold…. Once inside they were amazed by the variety available to them….and were confused by the concept of serving themselves….

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“The arrival of the Supermarket, it changed our lives forever” brizzle born and bred via Foter.com / CC BY-ND Original image source: https://flickr.com/photos/brizzlebornandbred/8751069802/

Early stores did not carry fresh produce, such as fruit, vegetables and meat…. How different things are today…. As we all know, just about everything we require on a day-to-day basis can be found under one roof….and of course, bigger stores offer so much more….clothing, electrical goods, toys, even financial services…. There really is no stopping them…. Nowadays, many of the old corner shops are being replaced by the big chains with their smaller convenience stores….

The way we shop has also changed…. Competition between the big concerns and the relaxation of Sunday opening means stores are trading for longer hours, some are even open 24 hours a day…. In recent years we have seen the advent of on-line shopping…. A few clicks and the weekly shop is delivered straight to your door…. ‘Dark stores’ exist; warehouses essentially layed-out like supermarkets but not open to the public – their sole purpose to fulfill all those on-line orders….  Nowadays, the focus is very much on on-line shopping for just about everything…. We don’t have to take time out of our busy lives to trudge around stores and can arrange delivery to a convenient location, be it home, the office…. Actual, physical ‘shopping’ has, to some extent, become reserved as a leisure activity….

We are all often nostalgic when we think about our village shops and corner stores….

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The Corner Shop brizzle born and bred via Foter.com / CC BY-ND Original image source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/brizzlebornandbred/13799292373/

Unfortunately, it is our preference for convenience that has seen the demise of so many….we simply haven’t supported them…. Although it may be too late for some, it’s not all doom and gloom….there are plenty that are fighting back…. It is not unusual these days for a village shop to be owned and run by the villagers themselves….often selling local produce – eggs, milk, vegetables from a local farmer, bread delivered daily from a local bakery…. Sometimes these shops will offer a range of artisan or hand-crafted foods…. Many might provide a facility for fresh coffee and place to catch-up with neighbours whilst picking something up for dinner…. The village shop is still, in so many cases, the central hub of the community…. Thankfully, their value has been recognised and conscious efforts are being made to preserve them…. Obviously, we all have to move with the times, many of these little stores are doing just that…. It’s up to us as individuals to help keep them going; personally, I love it when I can pop into a little shop and find something different….may be a jar of locally produced honey – or handicrafts made by somebody within the village…. Let’s face it, we all love a little retail therapy….

“To found a great empire for the sole purpose of raising up a people of customers, may at first sight, appear a project fit only for a nation of shopkeepers. It is, however, a project altogether unfit for a nation of shopkeepers, but extremely fit for a nation whose government is influenced by shopkeepers”….  Adam Smith – Wealth of Nations 1776