I CAN remember being with my mother in a shop, the bill came to four shillings eleven-pence-three-farthings, two half crowns were proffered and the change – one farthing was waited for as if it had been a king's ransom.

It seems strange now to think that the farthing was one 960th of a pound!

The best bit was watching the assistant put the bill and the money into a wooden cup, which was a twisting motion fitted into a metal screw.

Then, on pulling a handle which stretched elastic bands, the cup was projected to the cashier along a wire at a fast speed.

After some time the projectile came back along the wire to the shop assistant who unscrewed the cup to present the change and a receipt.

Butchers shops mostly had a cashier within a tiny booth in the shop.

The floors were covered in sawdust so, when wet weather came, the sawdust stuck to the customers' feet and was tracked out of the shop and deposited along the pavement.

Cawdells in the High Street was very high-tech with a vacuum system, whereby the money was put into a tube and screwed shut.

The tube was pushed into a pipe where it disappeared with a 'whoosh' to somewhere mysterious within the building.

After what seemed to be a half hour, the tube dropped with a hefty thump into the waiting basket.

Then, when the assistant was free, the receipt and change was forthcoming.

A trip to the haberdashers held another mystery for me.

After wrapping our purchase, the assistant would dexterously tie string around the parcel and snap the string with a flick of his fingers.

The assistants did not look to be weightlifters but how did they snap that string?

Another source of mystery to small children was to watch an assistant make a paper cone to hold a purchase; sugar was weighed into blue bags which were closed with proper little ears which stayed flat seemingly without support.

Everywhere in the grocer's shop were sacks open to show the contents: split peas, currants and dried fruit were on display and every type of shop had its own individual smell.

I particularly liked to watch butter being patted with the two wooden bats some of which left exotic impressions on the half pound of butter, or whatever weight was required.

A lot of shops did this back then from large blocks of butter about a foot and a half square.

Bacon was freshly cut as needed, the assistant asking which cut madam preferred. It was possible to have your bacon so thin you could almost see through it or up to doorstep thickness, I never could see where green bacon was actually green, I remember thinking that if it actually was green then it must be "off".

It was also fascinating to watch the cheese being cut with a wire into manageable wedges from the half-hundredweight or so whole cheeses which came from New Zealand at two to a crate.

These were covered in muslin. If lucky, this could be begged for and after washing out made good cloths around the house.

If the begging was successful, sometimes it was also possible to get a couple of the cheese crates which were picked up by means of the home made "barrow".

Every self-respecting boy had one. These carts were then chopped up into firewood.

The crates were stencilled with the logo for New Zealand – the fern – which always seemed to be quite exotic coming as it did from the other side of the world.

The "barrow" was made almost exclusively from pram wheels or perambulators to give the proper name.

Some boys made the wheels into a trolley on which they sat and some had front-wheel steering and would go like the clappers down hill.

Most preferred the barrow because very occasionally there would come the opportunity to earn money by fetching something for a lady, which was too heavy otherwise to carry, such as a sack of potatoes from the greengrocer or a grocery order.

MR PERRY, of 30 Kenilworth Drive, Croxley Green