I couple of weeks ago my favorite stationary store closed. It was my go-to place for a whole range of things—the best selection of greeting cards, any size of envelope, any kind of pen, amusing little gifts for friends’ birthdays and even a tempting display of scarves, bags, jewelry. At Christmas it had crackers—the type that go bang, not the ones you eat with cheese. I’d always find what I needed and also something to surprise and tempt me. But it couldn’t complete with Staples and Office Max where I have to buy twenty-four envelopes when I want just one.
So I find myself lamenting the last of a way of life I grew up with. The main street of small shops, each individually owned by people I knew. Granted it took longer to go to the grocer for sugar and then have to go next door to the dairy for milk. But the butcher would tell me which cuts of meat I didn’t want to buy and which I did. The fishmonger had fresh fish, delivered from that boat that morning. And the little haberdashery—well, they had everything from elastic to sewing thread to woolen undergarments. If you asked for it. They had it. And with each shop one stopped and passed the time of day.
I still find that in some parts of England. When I visit relatives in Cornwall I love walking down the main street in Falmouth, gazing with longing at the fishmonger’s slab of lovely fish freshly caught. And the pasty shop with the smell of just baked pasties. And everyone calls you “My lovey” and has time to chat.
It’s definitely one of the things I miss about England, although every town now has a huge hypermarket there too. But one thing that does seem to be vanishing from jolly old England is the cup of tea. It has always been the symbol of hospitality. Go to visit and the first thing the hostess used to say is “I’ll put the kettle on.” In many working class homes the tea pot sat on the hob, hot and full, all day in case somebody stopped by for a chat. And the tea stewed stronger and stronger!
If someone was in an accident, suffering from shock, they were given a cup of tea. If someone was upset in any kind of disaster—the bombings of World War II, floods or fires, they were given a cup of tea. It was a symbol that everything was going to be all right.
But today’s generation doesn’t drink tea. Drive around Britain and you’ll see Starbucks and Costa’s Coffee on every corner. When we stay with people it’s coffee at breakfast. Those with leisure still have their afternoon cuppa at four, but it’s mostly older folks like us. The young have no time for leisure, or cuppas.
Of course one can still find tea at the Ritz (for fifty pounds or so), at Brown’s and other very posh hotels. And in Devon and Cornwall they still serve the famous cream teas with local clotted cream. Yum. I’m sad to see tea dying out—both as a drink when one needs a pick-me-up and as a meal in the afternoon. To me it was the most civilized of meals—tiny cucumber sandwiches, home made scones with jam (and sometimes cream), little cakes, slices of rich fruit cake. All extra calories, I confess, but such pleasant calories with time for chatter and reenergizing. We sometimes serve tea as a treat to family and friends, but mostly they are too busy—rushing off to swim practice or karate or with too much homework. We live in a world that is too busy, too rushed, and that’s a great pity.
So what do you miss about our current lifestyle? Any nostalgia to share?