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Backwords: Salad Days

Mike Shaw recalls the days when he served as a delivery lad, taking out vegetables grown by his father.

My salad days were booked for me. Every summer Saturday, as regular as clockwork.

I can’t honestly say that I really enjoyed them. But they were a fruitful source of pocket money.

It was all tied up with my father’s insatiable hobby of gardening. My mother used to say it was more than a hobby. A secondary occupation, she called it.

In our spacious vegetable patch, lettuce, radish and spring onions were cultivated by the score. All the basic ingredients for a crisp fresh salad.

My father did all the growing. He was quite good as a salesman as well. But he needed a delivery boy to get the salad to his customers’ doorsteps.

And that was where I came in. I wasn’t all that enthusiastic at first. But dad wasn’t the only one in our family with an eye for money.

Cajolery turned into hard bargaining as we got down to discussing percentages and pennies. In the end a deal was struck. For my Saturday morning’s work I earned about a bob (5p in today’s money).

The operation went like this. At the mill during the week my father went round his workmates getting orders for a weekend salad.

Then, come Saturday morning, out came his notebook in which he had written his customers’ names and their requirements.

Some wanted the full treatment - lettuce, radish, spring onions, parsley and a piece of cucumber. All for a tanner, if I remember rightly. Others just had one lettuce or a lettuce with a permutation of the extras.

Each order was carefully wrapped up in pages from the Colne Valley Guardian, The Huddersfield Examiner or the Daily Herald, then tied up with a piece of thin string.

There were usually about a couple of dozen parcels. All packed into one of my mother’s wicker clothes-baskets - plastic was unheard of in those days.

Because it needed a clothes-basket to hold all the parcels, I had to have a partner to carry the other end. This meant more financial negotiations, this time with some of my school pals over the size of the fee.

“Exploitation!’’ exploded one lad when I tried to cut down his cash demands. And another left me in a real fix one Saturday when he staged a lightning strike half-way through the round, dropped the basket and stormed off to join a game of cricket.

We must have presented a strange sight as we trooped around the streets with our clothes-basket. Some of the comments from curious passers-by were distinctly embarrassing. Like the remarks of a bloke who thought our newspaper-wrapped parcels contained fish and chips.

“Must be somebody’s birthday,’’ he chortled to his mates, much to our disgust.

Even more embarrassing were our frequent mistakes in delivering orders to the wrong houses. People were not amused when they got onions they didn’t want or were deprived of their little bit of cucumber.

If they didn’t open their parcel on the doorstep it was too late to do anything about it. We had vanished long before the mistake was discovered.

The only thing they could do was lodge an official complaint with my father, who later delivered a stern rebuke.

Salad teas on Sundays were the thing in most working-class homes then. But they were a treat confined to the Sabbath. Family budgets didn’t run to ham and lettuce during the week.

Our salad sales hit a peak on the weekend of the Sunday School anniversary. Sometimes we even had to fill up the clothes-basket twice to cope with extra demand as everybody’s long-lost relatives gathered for their annual summer bean-feast.

Now even the Sunday School has closed. And Sunday teas are more likely to be pizzas than salads.

But every time I see a clothes-basket even if it’s made of plastic - I can’t help thinking about lettuces and radish.

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