Before you go . . .
Tony Redman in praise of Jackdaws
THE bird Corvus monedula, or Jackdaw, “jack”, meaning small and “daw”, meaning bird in old English, is a truly wonderful bird. Super intelligent, opportunist feeders, sometimes called choughs, or other dialect names relating to the sounds they make, their metallic coats shine in the sun. Ancient tradition has it that they are very narcissistic and can be captured by putting out bowls of oil, the reflection of their image making them dive in and drown. Interesting maybe, but I have not suddenly turned into an ornithologist in my advancing years.
In a nearby village we have a Jackdaw. It’s a village shop owned by Eve and Martin Crosby who have owned it for just over 31 years. Eve can tell you how many days since they purchased it from her parents. I have learnt to my cost over the years that you should never go anywhere else for anything until you have enquired there. Nobody seems to be too sure why it is called the Jackdaw. It is one of the last village general stores in existence, probably, and is a wonderful Aladdin’s cave of anything you might possibly never knew you wanted. I was recently looking for some particular items for the garden. None of the big town stores could help me, and in desperation I asked Martin if he knew where I could obtain them. “They are round the front,” he said laconically, “help yourself.” And then there are the stupid things like fly papers. You can get them on line, but the stupid flies refuse to defer dive-bombing me until the sticky armament has arrived in the post. Just when I needed them, none of the big stores had them in stock, whilst the Jackdaw had three different types to choose from.
They do an esoteric range of magazines suited to their rural position: four different farmers’ magazines, practical scooter, mags for tractor collectors and others on military matters, as well of course, as this unrivalled journal amongst titles I have seen nowhere else. They stock whatever people want, and if they have not got it, they will get it for you. Outside, the shop looks like any other slightly down at heel village store. It shows evidence of former existences as a garage repair shop, village café and petrol filling station, all now laid down for the most part as Eve and Martin seek a quieter existence. The extra words “filling station” were dropped some years ago and the pumps now languish amongst piles of potting compost and dishwasher salt. Once inside the shop it resembles one of those old style emporiums with things piled high in a ridiculously constricted space. There is only sufficient space for two thin people to pass each other in front of the counter and along the aisles, whilst behind the counter Eve and Martin maintain that they know exactly where everything is, and I believe every word they say. Once, I heard a scuttling sound coming from behind the lottery machine, and feared a rodent of some sort was lurking. Watching the space intently as I queued waiting to be served, an arm suddenly appeared from behind a pile of boxes, followed by a black Lycra clad body, a scruffy head covered in dust, and a face with a very broad grin. I recognised it to be my GP, on his hands and knees looking for a particular type of water pump, which somewhat to his astonishment, he had found underneath the pile of 1970s video tape and some balls of string. But it is a tough life. Eve gets up at three in the morning to receive the newspaper deliveries, and then again at six to receive fresh breads and pastries from a local bakery. Later on there is the Cash and Carry run, and sourcing particular customers’ needs from the day before.
The queue inside the shop is always jolly, many of their customers have been coming for decades and are on first name terms with the proprietors, who know what their customers have come for, what papers they read, who they are related to, even their favourite buns. There is a sense of delight and ownership. It adds something to the community just by being there. But such shops are a dying breed. The increasing pressure from the multiples to reduce costs and increase variety as they compete with each other to retain a share in the market has an obvious impact on sales amongst the small independents. The convenience stores are held over a barrel with their more limited purchasing capacity. But as the Jackdaw, and other stores like them demonstrate, local stores can outpace the multiples by showing true customer care, real service and choice. And long may they continue.
‘It is one of the last village general stores in existence, probably, and is a wonderful Aladdin’s cave of anything you might possibly never knew you wanted’