words | Richard Cartwright photos | Luis Photos
It’s not quite the same but when you require or wish to purchase something, there are some similarities on how we went about it in the past and the modus operandi preferred by many these days. Is there anything you can’t get from home nowadays without exiting your front door? I think you can procure almost everything, including settling bills and ‘what-nots’ from the comfort of your home, by simply switching on your laptop, tablet or i-phone. Long before this wonderful technology came to us, however, there will be many out there who remember purchasing items not by just effortlessly fiddling with a modern gadget sat in a comfy armchair, but by only taking a few steps to your front door. So you see? It was purchasing from home just like today!
Yes, I remember in the 50s and early 60s, vendors of every type coming to your door offering their merchandise and all manner of stuff. ‘El Ditero’ was one – the ‘debt man.’ Debt, because he came armed with two large baskets stuffed with clothing – which, you can imagine, needed ironing thoroughly – for you to choose from and perhaps buy. He would let you have the items ‘on tick,’ and return the following week or fortnight to collect part payment of the goods you purchased. I clearly remember a fat, leather-bound book which he produced holding details of his customers’ debts… It worked! The cash amounts were negligible compared to today’s purchasing power, of course, but everyone was happy, the neighbourly clientele and our friend, ‘El Ditero.’ That was the trend then: fish vendors, bread, fruit and vegetable vendors and all-sorts doing the rounds coming to your door. ‘El Lechero’ – the milkman – came round also with his milk urn offering fresh milk by the pint, as did ‘El Aguador’, delivering fresh water which you would otherwise have to fetch yourself in zinc buckets from ‘distribution water points’ situated in your street which, when full, were pretty heavy – a couple of old currency pennies a bucketful was the payment. They’d be emptied into a large, clay receptacle standing in a corner of the kitchen which kept the water nice and fresh. Another ‘two basket’ street trader was my favourite, the cake man. He too appeared loaded with cakes to tempt the sweet toothed and others. All the favourites were there in his baskets… ‘Japonesas’ and ‘mil ojas’ were amongst the selection which you could see and choose through glass lids on the baskets.
These days, your weekly or monthly food shop – mainly from the large supermarkets – can be done via the internet, well, no internet in the 50s and 60s and big supermarkets like today’s were somewhere in the future, but there was no shortage of corner shops which were ready, willing and able to deliver your list of goods for you right to your doorstep. By simply popping into your regular corner shop when you were out and handing in your shopping list, you could consider it done – delivery on the way… You’d have to provide the shop keeper with a bottle or container though, for your oil which he’d pour out ‘on tap’ out of a big oil drum. Then we had Salvador… he was the salesperson selling ‘Pari’ shouting out, ‘Pari’ very loudly. It was a triangular shaped type of wafer, buttered with one of two or three choices: a coconutty kind of confectioner’s custard, a vanilla spread and some other. He also sold toffee apples and coconut balls on a stick. ‘Calentita’, still enjoyed today, was very popular then and sold by the portion. That product was delivered by a character we used to call, ‘Paloma’ (don’t know why) and served from a large, round metal tray balanced on his head. Another ‘yeller’ tradesman comes to mind – ‘El Afilao’, the ‘Sharpener’. He was the guy who sharpened your knives, scissors and other blunt utensils that needed an overhaul. He would go round blowing his pan pipe announcing his arrival in your area – oh, you had to take a few more steps and go out into the street for that one – pushing his barrow type, large-wheel-on-a-strap contraption powered by strong leg muscles that turned ‘the stone sharpener’ in order to give your piece of equipment a new lease of life. Surprisingly, that tradesman is still around today whizzing around on a motor scooter. Clearly, he’s upgraded his mode of transport from the contraption his former self used to push around. I actually saw him in Soto Grande, up the coast. And the pan flute is still featured to attract potential customers.
Those similarities begin to wane at this stage. It’s plainly obvious many of the facilities offered today which you can opt for by merely tapping into modern technology directly from your home or office. This cannot be matched by what was available all those years ago but, as I’ve highlighted, there are parallels to be drawn in the sense of purchasing goods from home by staying put and not having to go out. However, much of what can be done now wasn’t possible or even required then… Internet banking? No need, no money, so no bank account. HP payments for car… No car. What was a mortgage…Who would be tied up with one of those, I don’t think we could even spell the word! Very few kids went to ‘UNI’, so no extra expenses for that, and going out to restaurants was unheard of then, if for no other reason, because money was in very short supply. Because of the cash shortfall, there were occasions when our parents needed to borrow, so they knew who the ‘shark’ money lender was and where he lived – even though his commission was in the region of 20 or 25% payback on the amount borrowed, there was a need for extra funds so you had to go along with the inflated commission and payback agreements. In those days, you’d prefer to keep things of this nature very low-key because it wasn’t ‘nice’ for others to know that you owed money and were in debt! There was no internet to find out who the ‘shark’ was and where to meet him on the quiet, so you had to go along to his home and knock on the door… How nice!
So, over time, the basic similarity and reality about all of this is that, whether on the internet or attending to the door to door seller or hawker it involves, in the main, using your well earned income. With summer over and autumn creeping in, try not to blink, because in a few weeks it’ll be Santa you-know-who knocking on YOUR door, so watch your pennies because drawing funds, digging in your pockets, coughing up, or in a word, ‘spending’ begins all over again, whether it’s by the old fashioned method or via the modern way, the message is, manage your pennies wisely. So, in the meantime, it’s therefore wise to turn the tap off and stop the cash flow electronically or, as in the past, with Emilio, Salvador or Pedro paying you a friendly but tempting visit to your doorstep… Whichever the method, ignore the laptop or tablet and don’t open the door… they may be back!