I needed to buy a loaf of bread today, so Tramp and I called at the village shop on the way back from our walk – one that took us through glorious sun-filled woods and fields.
The shop has recently started selling a range of breads supplied by a local bakery, branching out from the previous stock of white sliced, brown sliced and, on a good day, Hovis. And the new breads are a veritable feast for the eyes, ranging through rosemary and sundried tomato ciabattas and paninis, to walnut wholemeals, seeded granaries and dusty white bloomers – all displayed on rough wooden shelves covered in gingham-checked paper.
But it’s not just the dedicated bakery section that’s undergone the rustic revamp – if that’s not a contradiction in terms. June and George, who own and run the shop, have recently gone for the whole Mary Portas ‘country shopping’ experience – it’s not quite as ‘bleached pine’ as the new ‘farm shops’ that are springing up everywhere, but it’s getting that way. So a delicatessen counter now runs along one side of the shop, serving sliced meats and cheeses, along with mysterious marinating delicacies featuring goats cheese and various oils. Sandwiches and rolls can now be made to order from this counter. Meanwhile, home-baked -looking cakes and luxury pates and olives, oils, jams (sorry: conserves) and continental-looking thin biscuits, are all attractively presented in select groupings on little tables to rummage through around the rest of the shop. Fake straw and baskets feature a lot. The effect is not one of a bring-and-buy stall at a fete, I hasn’t to add; but a tasteful discovery experience.
Apparently there was a touch of ‘panic buying’ at our village shop when the snow first fell and people were reluctant to use their four-wheel-drive vehicles in the inclement weather. The artistically arranged displays were forgotten for a while and we were back to normal as far as layout was concerned, as June and George couldn’t keep up with demand. I couldn’t help laughing when I mentioned this panic shopping to my neighbour, Lawrence, as he cleared a track down his drive for his bins.
‘I can’t understand why people have to buy so much just as soon as the weather turns,’ he said. ‘I don’t panic-buy. I just bought extra bread today, and a couple of spare pints of milk, in case the milkman can’t get through. That’s all.’
June’s father was enlisted to help with the rush at the time.
‘I expect you’ve found things you didn’t know you had,’ I joked with him, as I looked round at the shelves almost stripped bare of goods.
‘Don’t know what we’ll do if we don’t get a veg. delivery this week, though,’ he glowered pessimistically, and characteristically, despite the evidence before us of a remarkable set of monthly turnover figures building up.
At this time of year, though, the main rush is after school, when there is almost gridlock in the village centre from 4x4s parked up, while mothers take their offspring into the shop for treats, and maybe a bottle of wine for themselves for later, as they consider the prospect of tackling Miss Craig’s Maths homework.
Anyone who knows the workings of the shop will be aware of how slow it can be to get served at this time of day, as the children try to decide on their sweets, and the hubbub grows as mothers are diverted into chatting. Certainly no-one would attempt to order from the delicatessen section any ham that needs to be sliced, or cheese that needs to be unwrapped, unless one has time on one’s hands. An egg salad roll is out of the question.
But people don’t visit the village shop only for what they can buy. In amongst the throngs of mothers and children there is always a Mrs Purton, or someone like my friend Marianne – people who live alone and who occasionally come into the shop for something other than a painstakingly-made cheese panini or a bottle of balsamic vinegar, and which you can’t arrange in a display or account for in turnover figures. I’m sure though, I don’t have to tell you what that something is.