When I was young, my mum used to collect stamps. We had a Co-op on the corner. I remember she would come home with the shopping and blue stamps, letting me stick them in to slowly fill the pages until you had enough for a dividend (the books are low value collector’s items these days). The Co-op’s stamps were a response to their competitors’ schemes, especially the catch-all Green Shield stamps, which were very popular during the 1960s and 70s. Its founder, Richard Tompkins went on to set up Argos. These were the precursor to modern-day loyalty cards that now involve you giving them information about your habits through your purchases thereby capturing your ‘loyalty’.
The stamps were first introduced in the United States towards the end of the 19th century; given to customers who paid in cash as opposed to credit. There are though other schemes, especially saving for Christmas, which is implied in Alison Jones’ poem, “Saving for the Hamper”: “There was more to it than I thought, the pulling together of pennies/ in a small leather purse and counting them when no one was looking,/ the card left face down on the kitchen table, in anticipation of a stamp.” These schemes were/are targeted at those who may not have bank accounts, or a way in which they have enough extra money at the beginning of December. This was the case for the grandmother in this poem, “I did not see the strange woman/ who woke in the dark and went digging through her pockets,/ knowing she would find nothing more than ghosts and prayers.” The schemes are now fairly widespread, the latest being Toys R Us; this despite a number going bust, sometimes before the Xmas return to its customers, such as Farepak where people tried for years to get their money back without success. Pleasures change, whether it be a computer game, or as in our poem, “The sweetness of boxed dates was as surprising as summer rain,/ and now I know that hope was a wellspring beneath the ground.” Merry Christmas everyone, whatever your faith or time of the year it may be, at least when it comes to the concerns of capitalism.
Ali Jones is a teacher, and writer, living in Oxford, England. She holds an MA in English, focused on poetry in domestic spaces and has written poetry in a variety of forms for many years. She is a mother of three. She is interested in the relationships between place and personal, in terms of ancestry, the everyday, geology, folk lore and fairy tales. Her work has appeared in Fire, Poetry Rivals Spoken Word Anthology, Strange Poetry, Ink Sweat and Tears, Snakeskin Poetry, Atrium, Picaroon Poetry, Mother’s Milk Books, The Lake Magazine, Breastfeeding Matters, Breastfeeding Today and Green Parent magazine. She writes a regular column for Breastfeeding Matters Magazine, and blogs for The Motherload. She was the winner of the Green Parent Writing Prize in 2016, the runner up for the Mother’s Milk prize for prose in 2016, and has also written for The Guardian. Her poetry pamphlets, Heartwood and Omega are forthcoming with Indigo Dreams press in 2018.
Saving for the Hamper
There was more to it than I thought, the pulling together of pennies
in a small leather purse and counting them when no one was looking,
the card left face down on the kitchen table, in anticipation of a stamp.
There’s more to making a celebration than I ever expected,
the small processes of finding one thing to set against another
one thing to leave out, to make do without. The chill of the larder,
the echoes in the meat safe that I did not hear, stilted to lift it
from the reachings of hungry mice. I did not see the strange woman
who woke in the dark and went digging through her pockets,
knowing she would find nothing more than ghosts and prayers.
It was always better than I hoped, the old need keeping us strong,
the anticipation of cardboard boxes and shredded newspaper,
spam, Dundee cake, jellied fruits, Baxter’s soup and beetroot relish,
My grandmother’s cooking always tasted the best. At those times,
I think we had something else with us all along, in the way she worked
hour after hour, back bent beneath the heat, drifting between
house and garden, bringing everything in, currants and plums,
potatoes and peas, turning the soil, not a scrap wasted, ever.
The sweetness of boxed dates was as surprising as summer rain,
and now I know that hope was a wellspring beneath the ground,
as she worked, letting things in, immersed in the purr of the wireless,
bleeding carols through the air, making things possible, gathering us in.