Delivered to your door

After we married in 1994, we used to visit my in-laws in Bangalore (India) regularly. During the first few visits, we stayed in their home in Koramangala, a suburb to the south of the city’s diffuse central area. Although they lived close to shops, some within easy walking distance, their street was visited by itinerant sellers. For example, there were (and still are) people wheeling barrows from which they sell fruit and vegetables. These sellers announce their arrival with shouts in the Kannada language, which I cannot understand.  Other vendors come to the door selling bags of nuts and deep-fried and other snacks. Every street or street corner has a stall that is visited daily by the dhobi, who collects washed clothes to be ironed from your front door. All of this occurred in 1994 and continues today.

When I was a child during the 1950s and ‘60s, I lived with my family in Hampstead Garden Suburb (‘HGS’) near to Golders Green in north-west London. The HGS is a housing project, which was conceived by the social reformer and general ‘do-gooder’ Henrietta Barnett (1851-1936). The Suburb, whose construction began around 1904, is a mixture of residences of varying sizes built in different styles of architecture. Her idea was to provide homes for all classes of society, so that people from all these social classes could live harmoniously side-by-side. As with all the best-laid plans, this social mixing was never achieved. The very pleasant green suburb became a haven for the middle classes, the bourgeoisie. In his autobiography “A Little Learning”, Evelyn Waugh wrote of HGS (in its early years) that it was inhabited:

“… not exactly by cranks, nor by Bohemians, but mainly by a community of unconventional bourgeois of artistic interests.”

Today, this kind of people cannot afford to live there; it is now a highly desired residential area for the sector of middle class with plenty of money at hand.

Henrietta Barnett included three churches, a community hall (the so-called ‘Tea Room’), a school, an Institute, and two areas of woodland in her utopian suburb, but rejected the idea of including anything so ungodly as shops. So, HGS had, and still has, no shops within its boundaries. The nearest shopping centres are Golders Green, Temple Fortune, and the Market Place that is located on an arterial road that divides HGS into two separate parts. Unless one lived near to any of these shopping areas, the nearest shops could be up to a mile away from your front door. Because of this, HGS used to be visited by various roving services in my day.

The milkman made deliveries of dairy products every day. These were loaded on small electrically powered vehicles (‘milk floats’) that moved almost silently along the streets. The only sound they made was the tinkling of glass milk bottles as they rattled in the wagon. The milkman collected his stock from the Express Dairy Depot at Hoop Lane on the edge of the boundary of HGS. It was at this depot that the electric vehicle’s batteries were charged overnight. Newspapers were delivered to the door by a delivery boy employed by a local newsagent. A man with a French accent wearing a beret used to cycle around HGS selling strings of onions. For some reason unknown to me my mother never bought onions from him, but her sister, who lived close by, always did. Several times a week a tatty lorry used to cruise slowly along our streets. His vehicle contained a vegetable shop.

In summer, vans selling ice-cream would occasionally cruise along our street. When they stopped, they played a pre-recorded musical (well, not very musical) jingle to attract customers’ attention.

Every now and then, a knife grinder would arrive on his bicycle. He had a pedal-operated grinding wheel that spat out a shower of sparks when a knife was being sharpened. My mother never employed the grinder, claiming that he would ruin her kitchen knives. Being a sculptress, she was used to sharpening her chisels on a stone, and probably sharpened her own knives as well. Cries of what sounded to me like “old iron and echo” heralded the arrival of the scrap metal collector. When I was very young, he arrived with a horse-drawn wagon. This was later replaced by a battered motor driven lorry.

Twice a week, a mobile public library visited HGS. I never used it, preferring to walk to the better stocked library in Golders Green. The only commercial establishment, the nearest approximation to a shop, within HGS was Mendels Garage, which sold petrol and repaired cars. This has long since disappeared as did some of the other services mentioned above.

A dhobi ironing in Bangalore

Moving fast forward to today’s world, there is little need to leave your home if you do not feel like doing so. With the advent of the Internet, everything can be brought to your front door: from cooked meals to rare books, clothes, and almost anything you might want to buy. Even fast-food joints like McDonald’s will deliver your favourite snacks. Recently, a friend in Bombay needed a new rubber stamp costing a very few rupees. He rang the manufacturer to order it and was told that it would be delivered to his home within a very short time.

The convenience of home delivery is obvious, but this may jeopardise the future of shops that rely on people entering their stores to buy things.  Such is life, as so many people say, rather irritatingly I feel!

Don’t ever use aftershave!

CASIO

 

When I was a child living in north-west London in the early 1960s, I used to accompany my mother on shopping expeditions in the West End. I loved going into the centre of London because I considered that Hampstead Garden Suburb, where we lived, was pretty, but pretty dull – a cemetery for the living! We used to take the Underground to Oxford Circus. Our first port of call after leaving the ‘tube’ station was Dickins and Jones, a now no longer existing department store on Regent Street. It closed in 2007, long after my mother died.

Like many other department stores, Dickins and Jones devoted its ground floor to displays of cosmetics and perfumes. On one visit, when we were walking through the over-fragrant ground floor of the store, a sales-lady working behind one of the many stalls, each representing a different cosmetics company, beckoned to me. I pointed towards myself, and she nodded, meaning she really did mean me. I walked over to her, and then without my saying anything, she said: “Sonny, never ever use after-shave lotion on your skin. Now, get along.”  I have never forgotten her advice, nor disobeyed it. I was about twelve years old then.

As I moved into my teens, and I began needing to shave, I was inundated with gifts of after-shave. Well-meaning friends of my parents and adult relatives gave me numerous gifts of cuff-links, which I have never used, and copious bottles of after-shave, which I dared not use. The unopened bottles piled up in my wardrobe and gathered dust.

Many years later, I became a dental student. From the second year onwards, we treated real live patients. They had either referred themselves for free treatment at the dental hospital or they had been referred by general practitioners who could not handle their problems. Many of them made multiple visits. Treatment at the hands of students was often slow. Some grateful patients gave me gifts either during their course of treatment or at the last visit.

One of my patients was a young lady from the Far East. She was always accompanied by her little son, aged not more than four years. Whenever I gave his mother a local anaesthetic, he would pipe up: “Look Mama, dentist man coming with needle. Look Mama, dentist man… etc.” When her course of treatment ended, she presented me with what I regarded as a wonderful gift, a treasure. It was a Casio digital watch with a tiny calculator keyboard attached to it. This was given to me in the late 1970s, and these watches had only been available for a very short time.

Someone, who came to dinner with my parents in the 1970s, brought us a gift of a box of chocolates made by Floris Chocolates, a company that no longer exists. I remember that the chocolates were far, far better than any I had ever tasted. So, it was with some excitement that I unwrapped a gift which a happy patient had given me after I had made him a set of dentures at the dental school. It was a box labelled ‘Floris’. At the end of the day, I took my gift home, and opened it with great anticipation and high expectations. My heart sunk when I found that the box contained not chocolates, but small bottles of fragrant perfumes. I gifted these to a friend.

J, an attractive young lady, became one of my patients at the dental school. I asked her what she did for a living. She told me that she sold men’s fragrances at a leading London department store (not Dickins and Jones). She asked me: “Have you heard of Brut?” I said that I had heard of the company. “Well, I represent Brut at the store,” she told me. “Do you use fragrances?” she inquired politely. “No,” I answered. “Oh, that doesn’t surprise me. Hardly any doctors or dentists seem to use them.” I was sure how to interpret this and hoped that I was not smelling unpleasant. “I’ll bring you some next appointment,” she told me cheerfully.

On the next visit, the Brut seller, true to her word, presented me with a large box, saying: “See how you get on with these.” I took the box home at the end of the day and examined its contents. It was filled with little bottles labelled with names that I found mysterious: ‘pre-shower splash’, ‘shower splash’, after-shower splash’, pre-shave rinse’, ‘shaving splash’, and (the to be avoided) ‘after-shave lotion’. No instructions were provided, so this well-meant gift was consigned to the wardrobe. After what the lady in Dickins and Jones had advised me, I was not going to risk the after-shave lotion nor any of the other even more curiously named products.

With the exception of the cosmetic products, I have received many other gifts over the years, most of which have given me great pleasure. These gifts, useful or not, have been given by grateful patients who have either also paid me or have been treated free of charge courtesy of the NHS. More than my earnings, which were, of course, very important, even a simple heartfelt ‘thank you’ made  me feel that doing dentistry was worthwhile.