Prams and Pokémon and Puffins and Peanut Butter Sandwiches

When my kids were small, we lived for a while in a weatherboard house in Melbourne’s Eastern suburbs.  It was owned by a former AFL footballer. His investment property, it would seem.

The house had been renovated in the ‘80s and featured more than its fair share of cork floor tiles and mirrored wardrobes. A giant hook hung above the only place you could legitimately place your bed in the master bedroom, and we often wondered who put that there and pondered why.

Twenty minutes’ walk from this house was a St Vincent De Paul op shop. It was the ‘90s. Op shops were musty, messy and mothball fragranced. The volunteers shuffled around slowly and there was none of the slick professionalism that the op shops of today have embraced.

Items were shoved on shelves willy-nilly. Garments were priced to sell. Books overstocked and delightfully piled up. Electrical appliances offered for a song. Perhaps tested. Perhaps not.

I was home with my littlest two at this point. After the school run for my eldest was sorted, the breakfast chaos was tidied away as the boys sprawled sleepily amongst giant cushions on the floor watching Spiderman or Hulk or Pokémon on the telly.

At around 10am we’d pull the front door closed, they’d pile into the old Emmalunga stroller – navy blue with a giant basket underneath – and we’d roll out the front gate and head around the corner to the main road.

On one side was a cemetery, the cemetery I much later realised my great-grandfather (also a writer) and some other family members were buried in. On the other side there was a community centre and a row of exposed houses, rattled by the trams that passed by every few minutes.

We’d then head up the hill, past a row of shops and onward to the Vinnies. We’d navigate the front steps (not easy with a giant pram, but you quickly sort it out and manage it quickly) and then roll into the shop, hearts pitter-pattering with excited anticipation.

My kids were expertly trained in the art of finding treasures. My middle kiddo declared he’d put his “op shop eyes” on, demonstrating the sweeping, scanning eye motion that was necessary if you sought to see lots of things quickly.

The boys would tumble out of the pram and run to the toy section. You were allowed to run in op shops back then.

I’d push the empty pram around, trying not to get in other customers’ way, as I stopped, turned things over, put them in the pram.

  1. A packet of coloured pencils from the 1970s. (50c)
  2. A green stapler like the one we used to have at the shack. (50c)
  3. A brown Hornsea jug with a scale-like pattern. ($2)
  4. A plastic bag full of patchwork squares from someone’s long-forgotten craft stash. ($2)
  5. A vintage 1970s sleeveless floral maxi-dress. ($5)
  6. A Hollie Hobby stationery set, plastic sleeve slightly bumped-up. ($1)
  7. The Young Puffin Book of Verse (20c)
  8. 4 back issues of Vogue Food & Entertaining (20c each)

Occasionally one of the kids would come to show me something or request a sultana or a glug of the water bottle that was in the pocket of the pram.

After circumnavigating the shop for a good half hour, the boys would trot with me up to the counter to pay, toys in hand.

  1. Mixed bag of Lego pieces ($2)
  2. Transformers figurine (20c)
  3. Plastic Superman (50c)
  4. Mixed bag of small figurines ($1)

Then they’d scramble back into the pram and we’d wrangle the shop door and steps and head back towards the strip of shops. We’d buy juice boxes and a Freddo frog each from the little supermarket there. Then they’d settle in in earnest to play with the (non-bagged) toys while the jug and stapler and other treasures rattled under them in the basket.

We were ambling down the main road hill, but they were oblivious to the trucks and trams and buses rushing by, engrossed instead in speaking in special toy voices, fully immersed in a series of delicate play negotiations.

When we got home, I’d leave the pram on the veranda and we’d assemble our haul in the living room for closer examination.

I’d put the kettle on and make a cup of tea, then flip through the magazines, dog-earing pages for future cooking inspiration. Perhaps I’d have a biscuit, even. Then try on the dress in front of those mirrored robes.

The boys would spread everything they bought out on the living room floor and again begin to play a series of very complicated, cute and conversational games.

It would be lunchtime before we knew it. Peanut butter sandwiches, perhaps?

 

12 Comments

  1. I have very fond memories of op shopping in the 70s and 80s- I always looked out for hand knitted jumpers for my kids, and once when I was going back to work I made myself a list of clothes I needed and sourced them all from the op shops! All coordinated too!

  2. I love this so much Pip! The thing I probably miss the most about life in the UK is the charity shops. They were exceptional. I suspect we had another Australian writer/editor living in our borough as my local Red Cross shop always had the latest Australian releases, which was amazing!

    You’ve captured the joys of op-shopping perfectly. I had to smile especially at the old copies of Vogue Entertaining, which was my favourite magazine as a teenager. I uncovered a few of them in a box the other day. I’ve just been reading one from 1993 with my coffee. I so love 1990s magazines – the bold colours, the fonts, the experimental arty photography!

  3. I love everything about this, and also can envision it perfectly as a Bob Graham picture book.

  4. This was so lovely to read! x

  5. I love that despite living on the other side of the world this still resonates for me too.
    We used to go to charity shops in the UK, long before it was fashionable and it would always be exciting, opening the door onto a past we imagined up so that everything in the shop made sense. The smells and random shop fittings added to the sense of adventure.
    Thank you for reminding me of good times and of when we could be free with our hugs and kisses!

  6. I love this so much Pip.
    I remember as a young kid being embarrassed that my mum loved op shopping so much but when I was a teen I embraced it big time. I lived in 3 different houses on the same street over about 3 years and Vinnies was never more than a 5 minute walk away. At one point it was two doors down & I’d lean over my balcony to see if the “$4 bag” sign was out the front. You could fill a plastic shopping bag for $4!!!! With anything!!! That one shop was a treasure trove.
    When I first moved out by myself I bought a 5 seater couch from there for twenty bucks . It was bright pink & purple checked cushions with black vinyl backs & armrests. Me & my girlfriend carried it up the street to my new flat. We’d stop every 20 steps to sit on it. People must have thought we were bonkers!!!
    When I used to take my big boys to the oppy they hated the smell of it & used to think everything was junk. Now that they are grown they go off on their own & come home to show me the treasure they’ve found. Or they ask me to keep an eye out for things when I’m visiting. I love that they get it now.
    Op shops for life!

  7. This made me smile. How nostalgic ?

  8. I loved this Pip! Lovely, memory-and-emotion evoking writing

  9. I love your stories.
    We had a Vinnies five minutes up the road until very recently. It’s now a hairdresser and beauty place. It seemed to change overnight.

  10. I enjoyed that trip to the oppie, thanks for taking me.
    Cheers Kate

  11. Thanks for the trip down memory lane Pip! The thing I am missing most about lockdown in Melbourne is going op shopping -the only type of shopping I really enjoy! We used to have a little op shop down the road years ago when my kids were little too, it also had a table of toys and treasure for 20c. The shop was across the road from “ the little library” as my kids called it ( as opposed to the “ big” library! ) and there was a bakery around the corner, so it made for a lovely walk. I have found some terrific books via the Salvos and Brotherhood Books online stores recently – the closest I can come to going to an opshop at the moment!

    1. Dianne, I couldn’t agree more – I miss op shopping so much! It’s a million times more fun than regular old shopping. The thrill of the chase, the unexpected find, the quirky people, the smells, the boxes of old postcards and toys and crafty stuff to rummage through. Pip has encapsulated this beautifully. I don’t care if Target and Big W stay closed forever after, just let our beloved op shops open up again please Dan! x PS Peanut butter sandwiches. Mmmm.

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