Be­fore you go . . .

Tony Red­man in praise of Jack­daws

EADT Suffolk - - Inside - Tony Red­man CONTACT Tony@thered­

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’

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