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Backwords: Sweet Pickings

Mike Shaw recalls the time in his Yorkshire village when housewives earned "pin money'' by starting a shop in the front parlour to sell sweets and cigarettes.

When youre struggling on a wage which just about buys your bread and butter, theres more than one way of spreading a bit of jam on it.

A lot of water has flowed under Slawit Bridge since the shrewd Colne Valley folk cottoned on to that idea.

And they used all their brains and inborn ingenuity to come up with a host of nice little sidelines.

Starting a shop in the front parlour was one of their best brainwaves.

While the head of the house was hard at work in the mill, his wife picked up the pin money by selling sweets and fags over the counter just inside the door.

So lads like me often dragged the poor old dear away from the table and her treacle sandwich to serve us with a pennyworth of humbugs, an Aero or a Motoring bar, with its inbuilt biscuit and raisins.

At the front parlour shop near our school at West Slaithwaite we were often queuing outside the door within a couple of minutes of saying our end-of-the-day prayers.

Seconds after grabbing our caps and coats the mad dash was on for the lucky bags - complete with a free gift that never failed to disappoint - or packets of sherbet with the black liquorice tube to suck the powder through.

In the years of wartime rationing the little house shops hardly ever failed to come up trumps as we young teenagers hunted high and low for some decent fags that were almost like gold.

Its true you could always get a smoke of sorts from the Co-op. But all they invariably seemed to stock were the dreaded, foul-tasting Pashas. In the search for the sweetness of a Woodbine our front room shops were a better bet every time.

While the front parlour shops were booming, the men-folk built the hen-runs that spread all over the valley slopes as they used the products from their Rhode Island Reds to build up a nice little nest-egg.

Others were even more ambitious and kept geese, ducks and even the odd pig or two, knowing only too well that there was always a market at Christmas for a leg of pork or a lump of home-cured bacon.

My own father coined in something extra by doing some part-time haircutting and selling his garden produce.

But the man with possibly the top-paying hobby had a weaving shed in his own backyard.

When hed finished working on the looms in the mill, hed set to on his own after tea and weave some cloth of superb quality that he sold to market stallholders.

It paid off so handsomely that when he died they found a brown paper parcel in his cottage. Inside were a couple of thousand quid in pound notes.

A pity hed hung onto his little pot of jam so long instead of enjoying it while he could.


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