Out of the ordinary

Posted April 24th, 2010 by Penny Wise

Apr 24, 2010

Sorry I've been a bit quiet of late, unfortunately my CFS has reared its ugly head again and I'm back to working from my bed. Still, there's no shortage of willing nursemaids! As I write, Liam is sprawled across the end of the bed along with his beloved dog Hubble. Nushka is fighting for what little space she can get and Minnie as always is flopped as close to me as she can get. It's very hard to type when she keeps trying to wash my hands! Still, her devotion is unquestionable and always (well, almost always) appreciated. To be honest I'm pretty gutted about getting knocked about by this confounded illness again but there's always a positive to come out of a crappy situation. For starters, I've just been brought a bowl of steaming hot home made tomato soup, made by my clever hubby, yum! But - if I hadn't fallen ill I wouldn't have had to go for a medical appointment yesterday and then I wouldn't have stumbled across something that has been eluding me for months - a straight, black skirt!

I know - who would have thought something so basic and everyday would prove so hard to find? I see women wearing them all the time and admit to envying them, looking so smart and businesslike in their identical skirts. I wanted to run up to them and say 'where did you get your skirt?!' I searched every clothes shop I came across over a period of months and found dozens of black skirts but they were all layered or flouncy. 'It's because straight black skirts are out of date', a shop assistant told me apologetically. Out of date? How? Why? Straight, black skirts go with everything! Which is more than I can say for the flouncy one I gave in and bought a few months back that has yet to make it out of my wardrobe because on getting it home I discovered it makes my bum look the size of an elephant's. Anyway, I digress...

As I mentioned, yesterday I had a medical appointment, which took me to Thames, one of my favourite towns. I love Thames because it's full of quaint little shops where you can browse to your heart's content, particularly at the bottom end of Pollen Street, which I believe is called Grahamstown. It's also the home of my favourite op shop, the Salvation Army Family Store! I don't get the opportunity to go there half as much as I'd like so couldn't resist ducking in there. The racks are always full to bursting and you never know what you'll find. It probably sounds a bit corny but I love the fact that there's just such an air of warmth and caring in the shop. The shoppers are in there to get a bargain and the staff are there to help them get one. I tell you what, most other clothing stores could take a few lessons from these ladies in shop layout. Everything is clearly labelled and so easy to find. I particularly like the section against the far wall, which bears a large sign that says 'OUT OF THE ORDINARY'. I'm dying to know what things are housed there but haven't been game enough to look yet!

I was just about to leave the store when I saw it - or rather, it jumped out at me. A straight, black skirt in immaculate condition. The only one in the store - and it was my size! I snapped it up quickly and headed for the counter, where I was charged the princely sum of $4. I was chuffed to bits with my bargain and couldn't believe it when the lady apologised that she had to charge me full price as it wasn't a 50% off day! When I think how much I would have been prepared to pay in the high street stores just to get my hands on a skirt like this, I had to chuckle. I can't wait for my next appointment so I can go back and check out the jeans!

I was sharing my shopping success with Noel that evening and the conversation got around to our favourite shops. Noel would never get his hair cut anywhere else but at Trevor Roberts' barber shop in Huntly. He's been there as long as we (or anyone else) can remember and as soon as you walk through the door it's like going back in time. Make no mistake, this is a serious bloke's shop. The walls are festooned with everything from Tottenham Hotspur soccer memorabilia to stuffed ducks, pheasants and marlin. The only reading material you'll find are fishing and hunting magazines, along with National Geographic. There's a big stack of magazines to choose from, which is just as well as you can often be in for a long wait. With Trev, there's no such thing as appointments. You just walk in, and sit and wait your turn. People are happy to wait as long as it takes, because not only do they get the cheapest haircuts in town, they just like being there. Trevor refuses to rush, he'll cut your hair when he's good and ready. In the meantime, customers just sit and soak up the atmosphere - and often, watch the entertainment.

While you wait, you can be treated to any number of visits from some of the 'old fellas' in the town. More often than not they have no intention of getting a haircut, they've simply popped in for some good natured banter with Trev, who is always pleased to see everyone and gives back as good as he gets. I kid you not, Compo, Foggy and Clegg from Last of the Summer Wine would be completely at home here. All the furnishings are old and traditional, from a bygone era and unlike pretty much every other hairdresser I've seen in the last 30 years, Trevor still insists on wearing a white coat. Young or old, everyone loves getting a haircut from Trevor. It's his low prices and his obvious love of his work that keeps them coming back.

Another favourite store of ours is West's Trading, in Te Kauwhata, which has been owned for years by Maurice and Eileen West. You could call Maurice our local answer to Arkwright from Open All Hours (although he'd probably kill me for saying so!) The shop front is deceptive and nobody can believe on their first visit how far back the enormous shop extends. Talk about an Aladdin's cave! They just don't make shops like this any more. No matter what you need, you can find it at West's. A new bed, a wedding present, garden hose, framed art, tap washers, decorative soaps, fishing rods, duck decoys, crayfish pots, thermal underwear - this treasure trove has got it and much, much more. It's like The Warehouse - before The Warehouse was ever invented! The difference is that West's products are always top quality. They pride themselves on supplying their customers with the best and if on the very rare occasion they don't have what you're looking for, they'll get it in for you. Day in and day out, you can find the pair of them behind the counter, chatting to customers about everything from the weather, to fishing or the latest rugby score. Visitors from outside the area are always gobsmacked at their range and prices and never leave empty handed. 'Who would have known?' they say.

And then of course there's our favourite bookshop, which you may have heard me mention before. Browsers in Hamilton - now that's what I call a REAL bookshop! Think 'Black Books' without Dylan Moran. Wall to wall books at teensy prices. You could spend the whole day in there and not buy a thing and nobody would care. It smells of books. The people there love books. I adore the music, the ambience, the fact they stay open late at night so people can come in and browse at their heart's content. What Noel and I realised as we talked, that all of our favourite stores are owner-operated. Not big names or global chains but one-offs and totally unique. Let's face it, there aren't many shops like that out there any more are there? Which is sad but all the time people like Trevor Roberts, the Wests and Browsers continue to give a stuff about their products, their prices and their customers, we shall continue to support them wholeheartedly. And of course the Salvation Army Family Store and every other place who proudly continues to sell straight black skirts without caring if they're out of date! Hurrah!

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