1946-50,Alec and the Shop Part 2

York Road suffered damage in the Belfast Blitz and the Family went to Carrickfergus to stay with relatives, ultimately returning to No 18, yet another numerical address. It was there that I met Sophie, and there that we lived until we moved a few hundred yards to No 15, not three streets away.
There were two aspects of the shop I found both surprising and amusing. One was the sale of Christmas cards and the other was the effect of television on sales. Some months before Christmas Liza would go to the wholesaler’s to chose from a vast selection of cards what she believed her customers would buy, she would order what she was sure she could sell and leave the rest to chance. That her choice did not coincide with mine or Sophie’s, was of no matter, she knew her stock better than we did. In due course, some time in late November or early December the boxes of cards would arrive and then the fun started. We, Liza, Jimmy, Soph , some times a friend called, say Lorna, and I, would sit round the breakfast-room table and open the boxes and take out one of each of the types of cards for sale. From that point on it was like a Dutch Auction. The manufacturer would have a recommended retail price and we would assess what the market would stand. Occasionally we marked up cards by at least fifty percent and sometimes we dropped the price because we knew the customers would not pay what the manufacturer thought the cards worth. When the arguments and discussions were over we would get down to the boring job of pricing each card at the corner in pencil. Liza was inevitably right about the pricing, but in my experience she never had the courage to order enough and the nearer we got to Christmas Eve the more difficult it was to buy extra cards, and the ability to mark up became less, more often in the later stages we had to cut the margin, but having cards was essential as they brought people into the shop.
I could never understand the mathematics used by the advisers to the promotional departments of sweet manufacturers. On several occasions the shop was warned, by the routine travellers, that there was to be a TV promotion and we should stock up with the respective bars, packets or boxes. In one case it was Mars Bars that were being promoted. Liza duly stocked up to the tune of two hundred percent extra and yet, with such a common commodity we were without stocks within a few days. What I found extraordinary was, both the impact the advertisement had, but also that when we went to the wholesaler’s, he too had run out
TOYS When Linda was old enough to be invited to children’s parties we were presented with yet another financial problem, how to keep up with the Joneses. The children Linda played with came from homes across the social spectrum, but as the trend was set by the more affluent, all toed the line, with the result Linda would come home laden with bits and pieces. Not only that, but she had to take presents which were on a par. We, as I have repeated often were skint and dependent to a great extent on the generosity of Jimmy and Liza, so when it came to funding Linda’s, and later Lizzie’s, presents, both to take and to give, I had to find a solution. At that time James came home from work with pieces of rough sawn timber, which had originally been part of long lengths used as templates to pattern the plates for the ships. He cut these, when their useful life was over, into manageable lengths and brought them home for firewood. In the first instance, using this wood, I made Linda a small Irish cottage with a hinged back, opening front door and a little porch round it, all on a small board and decorated with roses growing up the sides and round the porch. The next venture was to make small simple jigsaw puzzles out of the ply obtained from tea chests, with the pictures from colouring books. Very soon Linda could do them, picture-side down. These prototypes in the end solved our problem. It was not possible to buy wooden jigsaw puzzles with or without big pieces in those stringent days and dolls houses were scarce too. What had started as an idea in the end turned into a mass production industry with the houses and puzzles also being sold in the shop.
The next requirement was an assembly line and armed with a treadle sewing machine base, a grinder head-stock, some steel channel, I made a circular saw cum-lathe and produced the houses and other items by batch methods. True I have a nick in the bone of one finger where I inadvertently put my finger into the saw, but Sophie was never party to that bit if carelessness. Later the machine became electrified instead of the laborious treadling and later still I made dolls from broom handles – long lengths of dolls on the lathe, head to foot, with their arms from doweling and wool for hair. Not only had we solved the problem of the presents we now had a minuscule income.

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