One of my earliest childhood memories is shopping with my father on a Friday morning. We would leave the farm in our ancient grey Austin pickup and with sheepdog leaping from side to side in the back, head into the local town of Baldock. First stop was always the bank to collect the farm wages. Next came the small supermarket next door armed with my mother’s shopping list and finally we’d move on to Chapman’s butchers shop.
This evening, the Chapman family will close the door of their old butchers shop for the last time after sixty-five years and silence will prevail. Gone for good will be the Saturday morning and Christmas queues with the craning of necks to get a glimpse of the front. Missing will be the collection of African banknotes on the wall, the ever-larger denomination charting the decline of the home economies of biltong and boerewors-buying customers. The small opening in the office window where once cash was passed through to a cashier, will be lost for good having long since been replaced by a chip and pin card reader.
Possibly most missed will be those sounds we only notice when silence takes their place: the hum of friendly chatter, the ‘slish-slish-slish’ of knife on sharpening steel, the unique echoing bang of the heavy butchers knife as it chops down on the wooden block and the familiar unique sounds of not just the entrance door but also the strange clack of the heavy chill-room door, as it slams shut for the last time.
However Baldock is not about to join the ever-growing list of towns where the impersonal, bland and bullying supermarket has the residents all to itself. With the daring-do and fortitude beloved of our island race, the Chapman family is opening new and larger premises on the High Street.
Tomorrow morning at midday, famous chef, countryside campaigner, author and raconteur, Clarissa Dickson Wright will declare the new shop ‘open’.
Yesterday evening I had a sneak preview with David, grandson of founder Charlie Chapman, and I have to say that it is most impressive.
There is enough stainless-steel and gleaming tiles to satisfy even the most ardent health inspector, the bespoke lighting gives a bright and airy feel and the layout of the large sparkling-clean glass counters is both modern, clean and perfect for displaying the quality produce that has become the Chapman family’s hallmark.
In time the new shop will reveal its idiosyncrasies but I can’t help feeling a little mournful at the slipping away of yet another childhood haunt.
To Bob, Eileen, David and Philip Chapman, I wish all the very best of luck.
© Baldock Bard
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