1940s >> 1948 >> no-532-december-1948

Just Once A Year

They come in their hundreds; they come in their thousands. Train loads, bus loads and coach loads, besides all those who make the journey on foot. Each town, village and suburb within a radius of miles, pours out its contingent.

It is the great annual trek to the shops of London. It is the prelude to the so-called festive season.

In Holborn and in Oxford Street; in Regent Street and in Piccadilly they jostle and push one another along the sidewalk, passing from shop window to shop window.

In this window there are fine coats made from the furs of rare animals, and in that one there are gorgeous gowns of rich materials. In the next are sparkling gems in gold settings and in the next are ingenious toys rivalled only by the mechanical wonders they are made to represent. And so on, passing windows tastefully displaying choice wines and expensive refrigerators, works of art and dainty lingerie, elaborate furniture and costly perfumes. At each window all heads are turned to gaze admiringly at the contents. But the crowds pass on.

At last a certain emporium is reached. Here we see a continuous stream of people passing in by one door and out by another. What is this place? Surely it must be a marvellous shop, or the many people who have passed all those other inviting stores, would not quicken their steps to gain admittance. Let us go in! It is indeed a large shop and it is crowded almost to suffocation. The goods displayed on the open counters are small and not as costly as those others we have seen. Had we looked before we entered, we should have seen the name of the store. Above the windows, in golden letters against a red background, we should have seen, “ F. W. Woolworth.” And, maybe, where the red background was a little faded, we should have seen, faintly showing through, the marks of figures that were removed during the war years: “3d.” and “ 6d.”

But all these people; who are they? What are they ? They are the workers with their families. These are the men and women who have toiled to make all those costly comforts and luxuries that they have just been passing. These are the people who, for the last fifty weeks have delved and spun, hewn and drawn, fetched and carried and toiled to produce the best of food, the finest of clothes and the grandest of buildings.

These same people have scraped a few coppers each week from their meagre wages to pay in to clubs in order that for one brief period they may spend on luxuries. Now they seek their “luxuries” in Woolworths. The portals of Galleries Lafayette or Liberty’s do not invite them and the plate glass windows of other shops keep them at a respectful distance. Even here, in Woolworths, the shop detectives mingle with the crowds—just in case some individual temporarily loses his respect for the property of others. Workers who have plied needle and thread to make fine raiment may now gaze at their handiwork—that is their portion. Those who have sweated to produce choice viands may now stand in the smell from the kitchens of the Piccadilly Hotel and sniff—it is their share.

And on December the 25th they may possibly have one good blow-out. Chicken and pudding and port-flavoured wine. Just for one day in the year they may kid themselves that they are hitting the high spots. Then, back to the grind.

Some day they will awaken from this stupor. They will set about the task of ridding themselves of an obsolete social system; a system that prevents them from enjoying the fruits of their labours. They will take the land and “all that in it is” from those who now own it and will work to produce the necessities and comforts of life for all. No need then to produce cheap articles for the many and super goods for the few. No need then to taste the good things just once a year. The best can be produced for all for always.

W. Waters