My Dad came from a proud line of Master Butchers – and his shop and the house I was born in reflected this on the verandah signage, boldly declaring – ‘GRAHAM’S MEAT SERVICE – Quality at Lower Prices’.
The shop was typical of its day – out front, a mosaic tiled wall beneath large glass display window, with the same proud sign-writing on the glass – and of course, the obligatory small, set-back, step-up entrance into the ‘customer front’ of the shop. This was a roomy space, to enable some people to be perusing the window display, whilst others waited their turn to be served in front of the neatly organised serving counter that divided the sales and working areas of the shop.
In Japan they rake coarse sand and fine pebbles to make symbolic shapes, patterns and designs to define their world and their most basic spirituality. In South Australia, in the 1950’s, one Butcher’s young daughter raked the sawdust that covered the floor of your average, suburban Butcher’s shop. The practicality of the sawdust was to absorb any blood drips from the meat. And it extended into the front of the shop, where the customers stood, because my Dad would come out to the front window display to carry the chosen ‘cuts’ back to the counter for wrapping sgx nifty current price.
But my deepest pride came from the perfectly even and artistic patterns I could create, whilst walking backwards, so all designs were perfected. Diamonds, swirls, chequer-board – ALL patterns were possible – only limited by one’s imagination. How come it never mattered that the first customer of the day would ruin all a young girl’s creation in just a few unthinking steps? I have no clue – I just DID it, that’s all!
The wide counter defined the customer side and the ‘business’ area – and it was memorable. Firstly, there would be discussion about the meat required, usually with my Dad establishing what the customer was planning for their dinner – and making recommendations on the cut and often the cooking method as well. Then the trusty scales played their part – wherein the meat was placed on a piece of greaseproof paper and checked against the customer’s wishes and approval.
Next came the old silver cash register – a work of art looming huge in my memory. All those rows of press down keys, and the magical pop-up tabs in the ‘window’ at the top, showing the individual prices and then cleverly calculating the sum of the price multiplied by the weight. No message of how much change was due – in those days, all who served the public knew their ‘sums’ exceptionally well – and every Butcher scribbled the individual prices on the white wrapping paper with the trusty pencil tucked behind his ear – and quickly totalled them – so the customer had a written record of their purchase, actually enfolding their meat.
The white wrapping paper came on a large roll, cut (by the apprentice or the Butcher’s son/daughter into big tidy squares, and piled up, ready for action, with greaseproof paper on another roll, to lay down first for safe and total wrapping. The only other thing I can picture on the counter is an order book, where my Dad would take notes about future requirements. And maybe also a daily turn-over calendar.
The customer paid, and then came a pull of the handle to make the cash drawer of the register open (and the important thing to remember was the size and bulk AND weight of this drawer when it ‘sprung open’). One collision was usually adequate to indelibly impress upon your mind the need to make a hasty sidestep or backstep to avoid contact.
What a treasure trove when this drawer was opened. Numerous compartments with curved bottoms towards the front, to enable ‘scooping out’ of change. And wire spring clips to hold down the various denomination notes – and this whole arrangement was a complete lift out, with important things like cheques and special delivery dockets hidden below. And let us not forget the trusty spike to push the dockets onto.
These were written in a docket book by the person manning the cash register, as a record for my Dad to reconcile the monetary takings of the ’till’ (or cash register). In quieter times, my Dad dealt with these matters, but when the busier days happened (like Fridays), then my Mum was there, taking the money and doling out change and conversation with all the locals.