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I started work in 1934 with Mr Whitelaw the Grocer in the High Street. It was very different from the supermarkets of today. We knew all our customers by name and, of course, had time to listen to all the gossip and family history.
In those days there were no malt whiskies on the shelf. Johnny Walker, White Horse and Bell's were the brands stocked and sold at 12/6d per bottle (62 1/2 p). Port Wine and Sherry was 4/6d and 3/6d. It was all bottled ale: Fowler's Wee Heavies or dumps, as they were named, and screwlop ale was 8d per bottle. The ale was delivered by horse drawn lorry' from Fowler's by Mr D Fraser and if that poor horse moved, some choice words came forth.
Woodbine cigarettes were sold at 2d per packet of five. Capstan and Player's l/- per packet (5p). Thick black pipe tobacco was 8d per ounce and had to be cut off the roll by a very sharp blade.
There were different days for weighing out sugar into one and two pound strong brown paper bags. All lentils, barley etc were weighed out too. although we were asked sometimes for a pennyworth of barley and peas to make the soup.
Cheddar cheese came wrapped in cheesecloth like gauze and had to be stripped and then cut into three sections with the cheese wire and then it was ready to be cut into whatever amount the customer wanted. It was only cut as required so was always fresh. Bacon and cold meats also were sliced as required. No 5 on the machine for bacon and No 3 for boiled ham or No 2 if they wanted it to go farther!
We got in bulk whisky which was sold in 1/2 gills or 1/4 gills or nips, as it was asked for. They had to supply their own bottles for that. There was a day for bottling cheaper wine into bottles and half bottles. It was siphoned into the bottles and then corked.
I used to make up bags of brown sugar and nuts for the children buying to take into the matince at the Picture House next door to the shop. In these days the shop closed at 9pm on a Saturday and 7pm weekdays, half day closing on Thursdays. We displayed a Picture House bill so had a free pass to the pictures.
We took back empty beer bottles and jam jars and paid out one penny for each one received. It was big business the day after New Year's Day, buying back the bottles!
Time went on. Mr Whitelaw died suddenly and Mrs Whitelaw took over and then Jean came into the shop. We were into the war years, black-outs, food rationing and call up which meant Jean going into the ATS. Ration books were a headache but everyone got their equal share of butter, cheese. bacon, sugar and one egg.
When oranges, bananas or bottles of sauce came in. a queue appeared in minutes. I remember the queue that formed on Hogmanay for whisky, the quota being one gill per customer. In spite of shortages, queues and bad news, everyone kept happy enough.
Gradually, over the years, life came back to normal. Jean was demobbed and came back into the shop which she ran until she sold it. I went back into the shop in 1970 after an absence of fifteen years and how trade had changed. Most of the goods were prepacked, whisky was sold by the bottle. If any customer had bought a bottle in 1934 I would have thought they really were the folk with the money!
Gone arc the days of the message boy on his bicycle delivering bread and a bag of sugar or me running along to the Salt Works with a phone message from the Railway Station to say that a wagon of rock salt had just come in, or going round to the Plumber's to say that there was a burst pipe at Dolphingston Farm. But my working days were truly happy, employed by a most respected family in Prestonpans and Jean is still a friend to all.
I now shop at the local supermarket where you are just the next person in the queue. Cheese. once wrapped in cloth, is today sold in plastic and a packet ofPersil now costs what a man was lucky to get in his pay packet to keep his family for a week - in the days that I remember as a shop assistant.

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