Saturday, 27 December 2008

The Death of Woolies and the Old Year

So today is the last day of trading for Woolworths, the pick and mix will be no more, the place that as a child I wandered clutching pocket money and over priced dreams of stationary involving neon crayons and holographic pencil cases. This was the place where my daughter stared longingly at the My Little Pony Grooming Parlour and saved up for the pleasure of owning the Sylvanian caravan she saw in the sale there. My mother, when pregnant was stopped by a lady in Woolworths near the gloves, she always used to add when telling the story, who told her that I would be a girl and would be born on the same day as my great grandmother. Woolworths had a particular smell when I was a child, wrapped sweets and wooden floorboards. Generations of children were bought school shirts and cardigans in Woolies and there were strange gadgets to purchase that chopped veg or polished cars to within an inch of perfection. Every passport and identity card I have ever had were accompanied by photos taken at booths in Woolies, where you hung about by the kitchenware section at the back of the shop waiting for your serious face to drop out of the slot, still damp from developing fluid.

So all things pass and become labelled as saccharine nostalgia; Wimpey Bars on every corner, sweet shops where you could buy loose sweets in conical bags, standing on bridges whilst steam trains passed underneath covering you in smoke, X-ray machines in shoe shops to show how well your feet were served by Start-rite shoes, women selling ice-cream tubs and Kiora from trays in cinemas during the interval, intervals themselves when you had two films for your money. A Woolies turned a place into a town, only a town could have one, a Woolies made you urban not rural. There was a sameness about them that was a comfort no matter where you found them. So goodbye Woolies, I will miss you. I tried to keep you going by buying CDs, DVDs, stickers, magic cleaning foam, mops, Cinderella dresses for small girls, Easter eggs, advent calendars, chocolate and cola bottles but alas it was not enough. Perhaps there is a shop heaven to which such places go and when we die we will be able to walk down streets lined with all those high street shops that made us feel ‘at home’.

I drove home from Christmas in Durham listening to a programme of film music and was surprised by how much music from film is deeply engrained in my psyche. Hear a few bars of some tune and you can watch yourself watching, watch who you were with, where you were. New Year always seems to trigger a certain nostalgia, seeing where you have been allows you to consider where you are going. The ghosts of Christmas Past and Christmas yet to come need each other. The economic climate is rather dodgy, what the future holds may be worrying but look what we’ve been through and yet we still manage to dance in the kitchen to Motown, laugh at bad jokes in Christmas crackers and toast each other in cheap sparkling wine when Big Ben chimes midnight. Life is more than survival but even surviving is cause for celebration, so bring on 2009 whatever it brings is going to be better for the joy of still being around to savour it.

And if you sometimes long to remember a memory conjured by place and chance encounter and you also want seasonal snow, forest, deer and just a little nostalgic magic that New Year can sometimes bring try this Hayden Carruth poem on for size. He is one of those American poets little known over in the UK who deserves better recognition.

And if things seem a little gloomy there is nothing like Thomas Hardy’s poem The Darkling Thrush, written at the turn of the 19th century when the Twentieth century seemed to hold a lot of foreboding.Perhaps given that businesses are going under and the soundtrack of our lives at present seems to be the sound of the tightening of belts it is a time when we all want to be party to some ‘blessed Hope’ of which we are yet unaware.

1 comment:

Michelle said...

I read this post with such interest. George Szirtes has written a poem, "The Death of Woolworths", which you might enjoy.

Happy New Year!