There existed a special relationship between the owner of a small retail business and his customers, which is now totally lacking in that which today’s multiple stores have with their customers. A blank impersonal stare now replaces the old friendly word at the ‘check out’ in comparison with the well-remembered extra little services which most shop-keepers offered as part of their goodwill.
One special service which was much appreciated, but has long been discontinued, was that of greengrocers providing a barrel of water outside their shopfront in early summer. This was the signal that the new potatoes had arrived and facilities for cleaning them after purchase were offered, and as children, we used to loiter near the greengrocer’s shop in the hope of offering our service in cleaning some lady’s potatoes.
Fitting neatly into the top of the barrel was a metal sieve, about six inches in depth, with hooks to hold it firmly in place, and having a central spindle pointing upwards. When placed in position the sieve at once filled with water and into it the new potatoes were emptied. Next, the brush was placed in position, this being a circular wooden disc with stiff bristles projecting from the underside, and having a central hollow shaft which fitted over the spindle. This was then twirled round in a flat, circular motion effectively cleaning the potatoes.
Since a meal consisting of duck, green peas and new potatoes has for long been considered classic fare, the phrase “Have you got your duck and green peas to go with ‘em” has also been a popular expression among working-class people, in banter when seeing their friends ‘spinning’ some of the first of the new season’s new potatoes.