Saturday, November 29, 2008

Why even Bob Dylan loves Woolworths.

Woolies is one of those shops nowadays. It's nice to have around. You go there every once in a while, like when you're not sure where to buy garden twine from. Or... ummmmm, y'know, stuff. Old fashioned lightbulbs. I don't know. As soon as I think of something to buy from Woolworths it seems like a better/cheaper place flashes into my mind.
  • B&Q or the garden centre might be a better bet for garden twine.
  • Have you tried searching online?You can usually get that from some file-sharing site.
  • Or if you just want something really cheap, how about one of the fourteen Pound Shop on the main road in Longsight?
Admittedly, at the £shop whatever it is you're buying is either covered in Arabic writing and may be horribly toxic & isn't legally actually allowed to be sold in Britain, or else has been manufactured by tiny handed Vietnamese orphans, but, y'know - it costs a pound!

At Woolies it would probably cost £2.99 (reduced from £3.99).

It's the same with your actual long playing records and chart singles. You're not likely to have that dispiriting moment any more when you rush to Woolies to buy the new (insert band of your choice: Adam & the Ants, The Thompson Twins or Shakatak) single - only to find - woe betide! - there's a gap in the display - they've run out of stock of the current number 7 hit. Bah! Luckily they've got a list of the current top 40 so you can check what else they should have. How about number 38? No. No, no Big Country. All they've got are two copies of the Fat Larry Band single and loads of Spandau Ballet. Grrrrr.

And yet, you'd put up with that. Ask when they were next getting a delivery in and mooch around a bit. Usually see if you could find anything else to waste your hard earned cash on. (Or the money wasn't hard earned - it was your *spends* - or in my case, money I'd saved up by not eating anything at school. My lunch-money-for-vinyl strategy. I could always have some Rice Crispies when I got home.)

All of my Woolworths memories are from the past - ummm, incidently, I think that's where all memories live. So, ummm, shut up. Woolworths must have touched everyone at some time. It's there in the nation's DNA. Some item bought there, some experience shared there. I remember where I was when bla bla... But now, Woolies, it's like a loveable but slightly embarrassing uncle, the one that still styles his hair like it's 1983. The one with the Chris Waddle mullet, white socks & rolled up sleeves on his jacket. He thinks he's in Miami Vice, he thinks he's *with it*. But talk to him about downloading & out-of-town shopping centres & specialist internet retailers - and his eyes will just glaze over. It's always 1983 for this over-extended metaphorical Uncle Wooly...

Top Ten Woolworths moments

  1. First LP record bought with my own money: Hatful of Hollow by The Smiths. Second purchase 3 days later (where did I get the money?) The Smiths by The Smiths. Moz was only born down the road, it seemed like the least I could do to support the local band. Plus, I think the record did actually blow my mind & sound like nothing else I had ever heard in my life.
  2. First disaster I ever witnessed. Mum was taking me to the Dental Hospital so that student dentists could wonder at what an overconsumption of sugary sweets & Alpine pop could do to a young boy's teeth. We got off the bus at Piccadilly Gardens - across the way the giant Woolworths department store was roaring with flames. 10 people died, most trapped by the fire or from inhaling the noxious fumes given off by the nasty 3-piece-suites on sale in the Household section. At the time I knew nothing about the danger & loved the excitement of it. And the fact that I got to see. On our way back we went over to see what was happening. It's horrible to think about now, but exciting at the time. Shame & sadness.
  3. Male rites of passage tend to revolve around fighting, girl-based endeavours & dares. The last one is where Woolworths comes in. If you were going to shoplift anywhere, Woolies was the easiest. Big shop, bored moustachioed bloke polishing lightbulbs over in the far corner. Bored young woman working on the record counter. About 10 girls from the girls' school talking loudly on the stationary aisle. "Quick! Grab that thing. Doesn't matter what it is. Put it under your blazer. Run! Run!" O, happy days. (n.b. shame & sadness)
  4. Pick'n'mix. What to pick? What to pick? This is like some test set by a Greek philosopher. Is it better to choose something you've never had before or just stick to the sweets you know you like? What if you get one of everything - you can't, there's too many, you've not got enough money - what if though - and you realise that you really love those green ones. It's better not to look - just choose them with your eyes closed. But not any of those chocolate eclairs or the nutty ones, they're too heavy. Get the pure sugar ones, you get more for your money...
  5. Discovering Value-for-money. Woolworths opened my mind to bargain hunting. Prior to Woolies if I wanted something there were 3 main options. Someone bought it for me. It was a free thing so I just took it ("I want a stick! I really want a stick to poke at that white dog poo. O, there's a stick, great!"). Or lastly, it was something that I could buy with 30p or less - but there was no bartering or bargains to be had at our local newsagents. A comic was the price it had on the front. Crisps were the same. What else could I possibly want? Well, eventually, records, particularly singles. As many of them as I could get. I just needed them. And Woolies had their bargain shelf full of singles that no one else actually wanted. Joy Division? Who are they? 50p. May as well get it. It got to the stage where I was checking the bargain shelf every day on my way home. Waiting for singles to drop out of the top 40 and hoping no one else would buy them in the meantime.
  6. Elasticated black pumps. Or plimsolls as you might like to call em. I've never liked the word *plimsoll*. It's just wrong. (I've just G00gled em & they're still for sale but are described as, "Black canvas plimsoles with elastic gusset." *Lexical shudder.* Anyway, Woolies was were you bought your black elasticated pumps that went in your home-made pump bag (mine had my name stitched on it) and stayed at school all year. With your stinky unwashed PE t-shirt & shorts. All perfectly normal in the olden days of course. Uncle Wooly would approve. They were similar to his Miami Vice slip-on espadrilles...
  7. The massive toy aisle. Kids clothes. Kids toys. It was like the Kay's catalogue come to life. All those things you wanted for Christmas. "I want that. I want that Action Man helicopter. I want -" slapped hand - "I want gets nothing, please may I have, might just..." I find it hard to believe that going to Argos, finding the correct number in the laminated catalogue and queuing up twice will ever be so exciting.
  8. I like to believe that the first girl I ever had a proper snog with worked at Woolworths. But it might have been a newsagents. Maybe she worked there afterwards. Maybe she's the managing director. She's not done a very good job, has she? I blame myself.
  9. The stationary aisle. End of August, beginning of September, maybe you wouldn't be getting a new shirt off the market, (it depended how much your neck had grown over the summer) but you would definitely be getting a new pencil case (preferably metal so you could scratch the names of bands on it). The pencil case contained a little ruler, a rubber, a pencil, a pen, a protractor & a compass. You never used any of these items except the ruler which was useful for underlining the date. "Put the date at the top of the page. And underline it. Yes, Sullivan, what is it?" "Not got a ruler, sir." "Sullivan, you idiot, did you bring a brain today? Johnson, lend Sullivan your ruler... No talking, you boys." "Sir, Holmes has just stabbed me with his protractor, sir." "Sullivan, you really are an utter fool. He's just stabbed you with his compass, you mean?" Compass/protractor - they were both weapons.
  10. Buying a spade. This is possibly the story of Woolies. I never set food in there after the age of 18, until I bought a spade at the age of 32. O, okay, I occasionally bobbed in to buy Easter eggs for my nephews, but I never had any interest in anything they sold - for me. Just CDs & other similarly unimaginative gifts for relatives that fulfilled a birthday/Christmas function. Now I get free delivery from Amazon or buy the Chocolate eggs from Asda.
Uncle Wooly, I salute you, but your time has gone, I'm afraid.

[Edited after failure. Grrrr. Ever feel let down by technology? Bob, mate, this video of you holding up the word card, it just didn't work. I embedded but you're not playing right. Even after a quick right-click to click on *play**. Still nothing. And another click to press: Play. You're singing but the cards don't say anything. They're all blank. You've let me down, Bob. More importantly, you've let Woolies down. Hang your head, sir.]


  1. I go into Woolies regularly. I rarely buy anything, I look at the price and go to Argos/Sainsburys/Game and get it cheaper. We like the selection of toys I will never have in the house so we go in for a jolly. It's also a handy way to cut through the shopping centre.

    In the last five years I have bought the following from Woolies:

    two potties, crap, replaced by nice ones from mothercare.

    1 pack of plasticine because they were the only shop open on a sunday when I needed to make models. The supermarkets have it now.

    1 toaster. Regretted when the selection in Sainsburys was seen, but toast had been made by then. Brain said: need toaster, go to Woolies. Brain was wrong.

    The bargain bin was amazing in its time. That time is not now.

  2. I blogged it too. I am angry and sad at the same time. Angry that no-one in the whole of that huge company had the nous to take Woolies into the future, and sad that something I have always known is going for ever.

    Recently I bought the following items in my local branch; and in no particular order:-

    Two leather look pouffes for my sons bedrooms. Two fake fur throws for their beds, two quilts complete with pillows, a bargain at £13 each. Some lightbulbs, and a magazine. Oh yes, and a Tiffany lamp for my daughter's room at a cost of £12.

    I do not know a single person who has not nicked pic'n mix from good old Woolies. It was a rite of passage :)