Old supermarkets are a thing of wonder to me. Unfortunately, most of my shopping experiences back in the day were boring, so I’ve enlisted some of my readers to share their supermarket memories with you. I must admit, I’m a bit disappointed that there was nothing about the Kwik Save flaps, or those mini trolleys they used to have for kids. I suppose if I was that bothered I’d have written that stuff myself. But I’m not.

Patrick Heaviside on Fine Fare:

Shopping in the 80s meant only one place to my nascent self: Fine Fare. It’s fine by me, trilled the jingle and so we were conditioned to believe that it was indeed fine. Try responding with ‘fine’ these days and you’ll rightly be called passive aggressive.

Ascending the ramp to park in the upper floor, or on the roof if it was a fine day (fine!) and then descending by travelator. Not an escalator – those have stairs and trap unwary children’s wellingtons. This was a diagonal conveyor belt, the only one I’ve ever seen like it.

As we were leisurely propelled down to the shop, the smell of bread was heavy in the air. This being due entirely to a chemical cocktail that was pumped out of the air vents apparently; jury’s out on the legitimacy of that.

Once inside, the trolley was rapidly filled with an assortment of Yellow Label horrors. Quantity was the order of the day, quality was confined to Christmas and the street that bears its name. The highlight of the trip was to stand mouth agape in the toy aisle and pine for He-Man figures I’d never own. Occasionally I’d walk out the proud owner of yet another bow legged behemoth, bulging like he’d had an allergic reaction to his blister pack.

fine fare

Biggytitbo on Farmfoods and Kwik Save:

We used to have a man who wandered around our local Farmfoods shouting ‘MY ARSE’ to himself, I think it was tourettes. He was always in there though, never seemed to buy anything.

I used to live right next to a Kwik Save and the man on the tills in there used to think he knew me and would start commenting on my shopping – “ohh kippers again, you like those don’t you” etc.

The Cat on Sainsbury’s and Kwik Save:

My main supermarket memory is the Sainsbury’s down our way, and child me thinking it was a maze where the hedges were made of food instead of hedges. But I knew if I was at the cereal end I had nearly escaped. Cereal was a landmark.

Kwik Save mostly smelled like headaches.

Jonathan Cox:

I had a Saturday job at Keymarket in the late 70’s. The warehouse was upstairs and there was a service lift that had the old lattice type doors. It was possible to open the door and stop the lift between floors.

key-Marketsc1970

At this point the challenge was to eat loads of Wagon Wheels in about one minute.

There must’ve been 3 feet of wrappers in the lift base.

(Upon further interrogation, he reavealed that the record number of Wagon Wheels in one lift ‘movement’ was “almost 56”, but that “sometimes we’d steal a box of mini rolls instead.”)

Paul Childs on shoplifting:

When I was a kid my brothers and I used to get dragged around Presto on the weekly shop. On one particular trip my dad, who is a type 1 diabetic, started to feel a little poorly so decided to eat a bag of Ready Salted Hula Hoops from the trolley and explain at the till why the bag was open.

Now when I was 7, I didn’t understand that savoury foods like crisps and potatoes contained carbohydrates, so didn’t realise that what he was doing was getting his blood sugar back up. I was used to seeing him drink a sugar and water solution or eat a Dextrosol if he felt a hypo coming on.

What my naive eyes saw was my dad steal and eat a bag of crisps, so I decided to become his accomplice and hide the evidence by pocketing the half finished snack from the trolley when my folks weren’t looking. By the time we got to the till they’d forgotten about the Hula Hoops so I kept quiet about it. Once we were home I decided to give my dad back his I’ll gotten gains…

“Dad! Dad! You forgot this.”

“What’ve you got there, son?” he said.

I pulled the now crushed bag of Hula Hoops out of my pocket and held them out to him.

“We got away with it! Here’s your crisps!”

Needless to say I had an early bedtime that night.

Glenn Jakeman on Presto:

I remember Presto being a big old supermarket in the centre of York, with their bright packaging and advertisements, and their range of budget stuff called “Basics” which I think was even no frillier than “No Frills”!

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Paul Childs on He-Man:

Christmas 1983 – Masters of the Universe was the big toy that year. The three of us all got He-Man figures and vehicles. My middle brother Lee even got Castle Greyskull, and my dad snapped the gun turret in half pushing it out of those plastic frames that toys sometimes come packaged in.

We thought we might get some more He-Man figures for our birthday – all three of us had our birthdays within the three-and-a-half weeks of Christmas – but that year, we mostly got money. But that was OK because combined Christmas and birthday money (sometimes annoyingly in the same card – seriously, screw those dreaded words “For Christmas and your birthday”) meant one thing. A trip, on the Saturday after Lee’s birthday, to Weston Favell.

weston favell

Weston Favell is a shopping mall in Northampton and it was GIGANTIC (except when I went there as an adult it was actually tiny) and it had an exotic-sounding supermarket we didn’t have in Corby called Tesco. And that Tesco had an ENORMOUS toy department – far bigger than Arnold’s Toy Shop back home. So on Saturday 23rd January, we were taken there, money in hand, ready to shop!

Of course, we spent all our money on toys. I got Zoar The Fighting Falcon and Teela, Lee got Whiplash, and Panthor for Skeletor to ride on and Barrie, well Barrie got a Care Bear, and I also picked up another toy that was popular that year – Crossbows & Catapults. We probably got some Star Wars stuff too, what with Return of the Jedi being out the previous year. Needless to say, we had a boot FULL of toys, games, books and whatnot. TESCO was THE BEST!

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Then came the long, laborious drive home. It’s about thirty minutes’ drive – which to a 5, 7 and 9-year-old feels like HOURS. When we were about ten minutes from home, just leaving Kettering on the A43, we were sitting in a long queue waiting at a set of traffic lights that’s not there anymore. That’s when we heard the noise – a loud bang, and then another and another and…

CRASH! We were all shunted forward as the car behind us was shunted into the back of us (and they had been shunted by the car behind them.)

“JESUS CHRIST!” shouted my dad. My mum was already unbuckling her belt crying “Boys! Are you alright?” and we were all bawling our eyes out because that’s the default setting for kids when you fall or get hit or whatever, even if you’re not actually hurt, which we weren’t. After making sure we were all OK, my mum managed to calm us down. She told us we’d been in a car accident and the boot might be smashed in, but the important thing was that we were alright.

“The boot is smashed in?” I said, bottom lip quivering. “But… but… but…” and looking back, I shouldn’t have said what I said next because it made me cry, it made Lee cry and it made Barrie cry.

“The toys were in the boot!!”

That instantly brought the waterworks back, far worse than when we thought we might have been nearly killed.

upset

After my dad had got the insurance details from the cars behind (there had been four involved in total – we were the last in line because my dad had been able to brake hard enough to stop us ploughing into any further cars) and he had deemed the car driveable, he took us all the way to my Uncle Barrie (a mechanic) who lent us a car and said he’d look at it on Monday morning.

We begged him to get the toys out, so we could see what the damage was, but it was completely fused shut and as it was a saloon car, you couldn’t move the seats forward to get stuff out that way.

So we had to go home and spend two whole nights without our new toys. On Monday before school we begged Dad to ring Uncle Barrie for a status update – but he told us UB would call us as soon as he had news and we’d have to wait until after school.

It was the most painful, longest day at school I can ever remember. I couldn’t concentrate on anything but the toys. Were they alright? Were they smashed to bits? Who knew.

I walked Lee and Barrie home after school (because in 1984 it was apparently fine to leave a 9-year-old in charge of a 7-year-old and 5-year-old) and I made them walk home faster than usual. Our first question on bursting through the door was about the toys.

Dad told us it was not good news. More quaking lips and welling up of eyes – but before we could burst into full-on hysterics, the news was that the part to fix the boot would not arrive for a few days – then we could have our toys. ON SATURDAY!!!

That week it snowed and we got the rest of the week off school, and our grandpa took us sledging in Cottingham a few times, which took our mind off things a little (although it was annoying we weren’t allowed to take our other big Christmas gift – BMXes – out because of the snow) but it was a slow, hellish week.

Saturday 30th January FINALLY came around and we waved our dad off as he drove the loan car off to the garage. For about 45 minutes we didn’t take our eyes off the driveway and eventually, that familiar red Vauxhall Cavalier came up the drive. We were at the door like a shot and opened the door to my dad carrying, Crackerjack style, arms full of boxes and bags of toys – beautiful, UNDAMAGED toys!

What a glorious Saturday that was!

Although it was slightly soured by Crossbows & Catapults being nowhere near as good as it looked on the TV ads.

Alexx O’Shea on underage booze:

I thought I didn’t have any good supermarket memories, but then I suddenly remembered that when I was 14 the Hulme ASDA had a Blue WKD promotion where they gave out free samples without asking for ID. Good times!

wkd

Julian Burnell on crap toys:

I’m very old, being born in 1969. This means I can remember very old stuff. Fortunately I have always been very juvenile for my age, so I’m down with He-Man and Transformers stuff, despite having been technically too old for them. I’m so old I can remember a time before there even was Star Wars, but that’s another story. I can even remember when Argos was Green Shield. That too, can be forgotten in the edit.

We shopped at Sainsbury’s, because Tesco was a bit too common for my mother’s standards. Not sure why; there’s probably a study to be done which compares the “Daily Mail – BBC – Sainsbury’s – British Leyland” demographic to the “Daily Express – ITV – Tesco – Ford” category. We were in the first one, anyway.

Sainsbury’s’ advertising tagline for most of my childhood was “It’s clean, it’s fresh at Sainsbury’s”. So basically their main selling point was that their stuff wasn’t rotting and covered in filth. Say what you like about the last fifty years, but consumer expectations have definitely gone up.

Around 1980 our family allegiance changed with the arrival of the Tesco Hypermarket at Bursledon in Southampton. Huge beyond imagining (at the time – about average now), and most importantly, it sold toys. Most of my non-Christmas Star wars stuff was wheedled out of my mother there. It was also the first place I discovered something I’ve seen many times since: the crap toy reject shelf. The CTRS appears in most supermarkets, although it’s getting rarer. Basically it’s the place where the stuff that nobody wants or that’s been dropped goes to die. There’s no real attempt at display and generally there’s not much else on the shelf. This is the toy equivalent of the leper colony and none of the on-brand stuff wants anything to do with it. It’s usually low-down to hide its shame from the grown-ups who will ignore it, knowing that if a child finds something they want on the shelf the full weight of pester power will be deployed.

hornetroid

But just occasionally you’ll find something amazing on it. Like the time at the aforementioned Tesco when I found a Micronauts Hornetroid (Google it if you must – it was really rare) for buttons. One find like that kept me going back to the CTRS religiously for decades to come, and even now it’s the first bit I look at, even though I obviously pretend to be looking on behalf of my son…

Some years later I got my first Saturday job on the fruit and veg aisle at my local Safeway’s. At the time the Safeway uniform was a lot cooler than the Sainsbury’s one: white shirt and black bow tie plus green US-style apron if you were on produce, as I was. Contrast that with the ghastly brown overalls you were given at Sainsbury’s (this was the 80s) and I was much happier.

Safeway’s definition of ‘fruit and veg’ extended, mysteriously, to the bins of loose chocolate-covered raisins and brazil nuts. There was a lot of ‘wastage’ on that aisle.

Just before I started at Safeway, one of the guys on the meat counter cut off one of his fingers on the massive industrial band saw they kept out the back for slicing frozen meat. The story went that when he was asked some weeks later to demonstrate to the accident investigators how it happened, he cut off another one.

Jen on Princess Diana:

1997. I believe it was ASDA in Stoke-on-Trent; already an inauspicious set of circumstances. Sulky teenage me was shopping with my dad, and as we came in we saw the early newspapers by the door all had the headline that Princess Diana had been injured in a car crash. My dad is a surly Scottish republican, so this merited nothing more than some minor head shaking and tutting about idolizing the rich and pointless, then we continued on our shop. Probably we bought Time Out bars- Twirls for people who can’t allow themselves the wild abandoned pleasure of chocolate without a punishing slab of biscuit.

Fatefully we’d arrived at the dairy section just as the supermarket manager came on over the tannoy to announce the news that Princess Diana had been upgraded to dead, and that we were asked to stop shopping and take part in a minute’s silence.

diana

All the other shoppers stood still in silent respect, but my dad continued to shop, loudly announcing each item he put into his trolley with relish. This was bad enough for a teenager to bear, but I soon saw his gimlet Scottish eye alight on the milk display.

In this ASDA they’d decided to make the purchase of milk even more thrilling by adding a large button that when pressed would make a loud mooing cow noise. I knew exactly what my dad was about to do and scuttled forward to stop him.

It was possibly a bit like the climactic fight in Highlander. I cant really remember what happens in Highlander. Brian May from Queen is a wizard or something and he fights Sean Connery on a cliff top?

Either way, my dad and I spent the remainder of the minute of silence in an epic silent tussle as I tried to prevent him from pressing the moo cow button.

Luckily I prevailed, and thus we were spared being strung up by our oatcakes in ASDA by an outraged mob.

Nick Jones on the Guildbourne Centre:

As a child, there was only ever one thing I wanted to know about a supermarket – does it have a toy section?

This was back in the days when toy sections were massive, like original Wagon Wheels before the manufacturers made my hands bigger. Sure, they weren’t usually as good as Woolworths, or Gamley’s – The Toy Shop of the South. But sometimes, oh sometimes, they had treasures that you’d never see anywhere else.

I still remember going in the big Tesco at Broadbridge Heath, you know, the one near the Happy Eater, and being forced to choose the Condor helicopter bike from M.A.S.K. over a Starcom F1400 Starwolf. Luckily I’m over it now, as you can tell.

One of the greatest supermarket experiences was to be had at the Guildbourne Centre in Worthing.

guildbourne

Things it did not have:

– Natural light
– Any really good shops

Things it did have:

– A fountain
– A supermarket that went from Keymarkets to Gateway to Somerfield to Coop (I assume, I’d stopped going there by then)
– An incredible kiddy ride outside the Keymarkets/Gateway/Somerfield/Coop

Let’s talk about the kiddy ride. Bearing in mind that this was about 34 years ago, my memories of it are a little hazy, but I can confirm that it:

– Was a spaceship
– Might have been green
– Looked weirdly like it was made out of polygons
– Had the best thing you could ever put in one of these kind of rides – a button that made the lasers fire

Not actually fire, obviously. Made a laser noise, though. At the time, this was the nearest thing I could get to achieving my ultimate aim, which was obviously to fly Airwolf.

Lots more stuff on my Patreon, if you’d like to help support a shit writer, even though I didn’t write any of this.

6 thoughts on “Headaches, He-Man and shoplifting: Your supermarket memories

  1. Great article! When I was 8 or 9, my maternal grandmother bought some sliced turkey or some other kind of meat from the delicatessen counter in Liptons – which was only a short walk from our house – and by the time she got it home it had already gone off. I seem to recall she took it back and got some sort of refund. (This partly contributed to me now being a vegetarian.)

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  2. These made me remember that when I was 3 or 4, I’d shop in a tiny Farm Foods with my Nana. The trolleys there had a “anti theft” device of a long pole that prevented the trolly from being nicked via the door. My stupid child brain decided that these long ass poles where connected to electricity, similar to cable cars or a tram (I live in Manchester). So I was always impressed by these electric trolleys which I assumed were self propelling. It was only years later I worked out why the poles were there and that people would most like have been electrocuted! Duh!

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  3. Somewhere in the mid to late 00s, my family and I once or twice made a special trip alllll the way to Beckton, inexplicably because we lived in South London for what seemed like at the time colossal Tesco Extra. This was as exciting as going to Disneyland to me because it involved going on the Woolwich ferry and driving for what seemed like hours.

    Finally, we got there and I was amazed by this Tesco that seemed the size of a small city and had TWO floors. Years afterward, our town was blessed with its very own giant Tesco complete with two floors and fancy travellators to take you up and down and it lost the amazement factor shopping there every week.

    Oh, and there was the time at 4 years old when I took my Barbie doll with me when we went to Sainsbury’s and proceeded to lose her clothes.

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  4. Do you know what I miss? Supermarket music. The sort of extremely light jazz they’d play in Kwik Save. Not innocuous enough to count as Muzak. But not edgy enough to scan as… you know. Music. But I used to love it. It made everything sound important. My mum used to joke about buying me the tapes of it for Christmas. I didn’t know she was joking. I’d have loved those tapes. Anyway, now that I’m in my 30s, I’m obsessed with New Age Music (see here: https://lordgloom.org/2019/08/12/my-new-age-mission-statement/). It’s just occurred to me that the roots of my New Age obsession can probably be traced back to the slightly-sad twinkly shopping music they used to play in Kiwk Save.

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