In my book, shopping on a Saturday is something to be avoided at all costs. Too many harrassed-looking people who have been at work all week, and have too much to do at the weekend, trundling overloaded trolleys and dragging reluctant children in their wake, toddlers having (sometimes glorious) tantrums, and supermarket car parks which really require a specialised driving test all of their own for the hapless shopper to make sense of.
But I went shopping this Saturday, friend Lynn in tow, although as someone who had been at work all week, she was barely awake. Off we went, bright and early. Not to Sainsbury's, but starting with a 15-minute drive along the Coast Road (sounds seasidey, doesn't it? But it's not, just 3 lanes of traffic through uninspiring housing developments, not a glimpse of water) to North Shields. Rather grim and run down in places, and where the infamous Meadowell riots took place a few years ago, North Shields is not a place one thinks of as offering an interesting shopping experience, linked though it may be to the altogether more charming Tynemouth. But it is interesting, and packed with history - including the singular fact that William Harbutt, the inventor of Plasticine, was born here in 1844. Aaah, Plasticine... But we went to shop.
First stop, Tynemouth Architectural Salvage, a wonderful place located in the basement of the old Correction House, where Mr Terribly Serious and his sidekick, Captain Birdseye-lookalike in a woolly hat, stock all manner of interesting items, from lumpy old cinema seats with scratchy patterned upholstery, to an array of ancient and very deep sitz baths, one with rather alarming moulded grooves, clearly anatomical in purpose, in its base. All baths older than the 1950s seemed to require a stepladder to get into them.
The place is not as bright and glittery as its website suggests, but rambling and slightly creepy, filled with fireplaces, tiles, doors, and assorted fascinating household objects that today would require two strong men to lift, but were probably in daily use by doughty women well accustomed to lifting heavy containers of hot water or coals - or, indeed, this being North Shields, baskets of herring. All the dim niches and corners were jam-packed with...well, old stuff, some of it mysteriously unidentifiable.
My long-broken bathroom lock was handed over for examination, and Mr Terribly Serious opened it up, to reveal a total lack of innards. So that was why it only held the bathroom door shut if you slid the bolt....He surveyed it for a few moments, and announced in lugubrious tones "This one's dead". And then he went off into the back room, to re-emerge with three similar locks to cannibalise. I was impressed that he made no attempt to steer me towards the stock of reproduction locks or handles, preferring to repair rather than replace - unusual these days.
One of the locks he had brought out was in fact more appealing and characterful than my own, and of the right period, so instead of wrecking another lock to salvage mine, I opted for that one instead, agreeing the princely sum of £15, and left it there till next week to have its finish restored. (A picture will be posted.)
Then it was off down the hill to the Fish Quay, which dates from the 13th century, and still has fishing boats and fish stalls, as well as Kristians, the best fish and chip shop in the North East. We resisted the chips, it being only just after 11, though we did notice that business was already brisk, and bought some oh-so-fresh fish next door before wandering round to look at the ongoing restoration of 300-year-old Clifford's Fort. Then, beaten back to the car by a challenging wind straight off the sea, Lynn whimpering pathetically about her frozen ears, we pottered off home, vowing to a) eat more fish in future, and b) shop for it only at the North Shields Fish Quay, although next week we may wear earmuffs.
Altogether a satisfying shopping trip. Nobody had rammed a trolley into our ankles, no one had screamed and thrown their tiny frame onto the ground howling for sweets, and parking had not involved patient manoevering round unmarked dead ends and overflowing recycling containers. And our fish had cost a tiny fraction of the price of Sainsbury's best.