Every now and again I travel twelve miles to a supermarket. A long way to go, given there are two perfectly acceptable ones within two miles. And both morally acceptable places for me to shop – for reasons that range from running their own farms to operating on co-operative principles.
But this one’s by way of being a treat.
No, really, a treat.
Mention the name of this shop to most of my friends and if they don’t live near one they’ll probably sigh. If they do, you’re likely to see a smug smile and maybe a mock-blasé remark about golden beetroot or the excellent local ham on the cooked meat counter.
A husband of a friend even suggested they might move house to be near a new branch of this shop.
The chain’s of moderate length, restricted to four counties in the north of England : Cumbria, Cheshire, Lancashire and – horrors for some who take pride in its Lancashire pedigree – Yorkshire.
Some might even argue whether Cheshire is really north.
But set that aside.
When my family moved from Lancashire, across the Pennines to (gulp) Yorkshire, the Ripon branch of Booths was still a twinkle in Mr Booth’s eye. But in Lancashire, a new one was being built near where my Aunty Maureen lived. (That’s the northern style of aunty, a family friend, not a relative.)
Aunty Maureen, a physiotherapist, was always there, somewhere, in my life. She became less familiar when we moved, no longer picked me up from school with tasty orange sweets that were actually chewable vitamin C tablets.
But we often went to stay with her when her own parents were away. They had a smart house opposite a park in a genteel part of suburban Blackpool.
Blackpool was always a popular seaside resort, filling up with workers during the annual week or two when the mills shut down – until the advent of cheap package holidays. Now it has a reputation for being down at heel – and yet it’s still an exciting place. But not exactly sought after.
Aunty M’s dad had made a lot of money from the workers, by running a shop in Blackpool.
A subdued old man with white hair by the time I met him, he was worn down, I suspect, by sharing his house in his old age with his daughter (she left her husband) and two grandchildren.
I was amazed when he told 15 year-old me that he’d been a yellow-cab driver in New York. My not-cousins looked bored when I told them how exciting I thought that was. They’d heard it many times before.
Aunty M remained one of the few people we kept in touch with after the big trans-Pennine removal.
But my mum and aunty Maureen had a bit of a love-hate relationship.
The love bit tended to revolve around late nights with a whisky bottle after my father had gone to bed. And shared holidays that my father was too anxious to take – to Italy and Austria and other places reached by plane.
The hate bit? Apart from the morning headaches?
Well, maybe hate’s a bit of an exaggeration but …
This is the kind of thing.
Aunty Maureen would taunt my mother on the phone.
‘I went to Booth’s in Poulton this afternoon. They have a beautiful Lancashire cheese in at the moment.’
She didn’t need to say anything else in order to render my mum snippy by the time she came off the phone.
Aunty M not only still lived in the only county worth living in, Lancashire, but had moved to a rather sought-after town, Poulton-le-Fylde, near the rather-more-genteel-than-Blackpool seaside resort of Lytham St Anne’s.
Booths meant pedigree. Still does. It’s a family firm and it feels like it.
On our way we’ll drive past farmers who grow tomatoes, salads, carrots, potatoes.
A shop built with environmentally sound features like re-using rainwater from the roof.
The lights are mellow.
Everyone’s willing to help. No one’s in too much of a hurry.
The café is limited, but it’s a well-used meeting place for local people. The notice board has posters for brass band concerts and Christian coffee mornings and flower shows.
And every time we drive towards Hesketh Bank and ‘our’ Booths, I can see Blackpool and Lytham St Anne’s across the estuary.
And I feel sad.
Just before we moved up north my Aunty M died.
And there’s a place on my wish-list of places to go that I still haven’t been: her local branch of Booths. As their website says: “Close to the medieval heart of this historic market town, opposite the parish church of St Chads”. And it says there’s a special type of chocolate now in.
My mum would be so jealous.
But if they have supermarkets in heaven you know what brand they’d be, don’t you 😉